From left: Jean-François Meullenet, Diana Gonzales Worthen, Laura Herold and Kate Mamiseishvili.
Diana Gonzales Worthen of the College of Education and Health Professions and Laura Herold of the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences at the U of A were recently awarded a U.S. Department of Education grant from the Office of English Language Acquisition.
The office provides national leadership to help ensure that emergent bilinguals, commonly referred to as English learners, and immigrant students attain English proficiency and achieve academic success. Of 144 applications reviewed, the U of A project was among only 44 that received funding. The project will receive a $592,706 the first year and a total of $2,955,256 over five years.
Project ELEVATE stands for Ensuring Learner Equity Via Advocacy & Teacher Education. It is an innovative, interdisciplinary project aimed at increasing teacher diversity and providing professional development opportunities for educators working with dual language and emergent bilingual students in PK-12 schools.
The project includes collaboration with Green Forest, Decatur and Springdale school districts, notably the Springdale Early Childhood Center, Linda Childers Knapp Elementary and Archer Learning Center. Likewise, the project involves collaboration with local nonprofit organizations such as OneCommunity, Inc. and the Family Iakwe Center; community colleges — including the Northwest Arkansas Community College and North Arkansas College — and Kansas State University.
"We are very excited to continue and expand our work in our region. As Northwest Arkansas continues to grow and diversify, so too, must our teacher workforce and through professional development aimed at ensuring equity and achievement for all students," said Gonzales Worthen, who has overseen three federally-funded projects at the U of A. "I am particularly excited about working with my co-PI Dr. Laura Herold, program leader of the Birth-Kindergarten/SPED Teacher Licensure Program housed in the School of Human Environmental Sciences at Bumpers College."
Herold said the program is a fantastic opportunity for local teachers, aspiring bilingual/bicultural educators and bilingual families. "Our program is especially thrilled to collaborate with our wonderful colleagues in the College of Education and Health Professions to increase access to teacher licensure to diverse candidates that reflect the languages and cultures of the children they will go on to teach," she said. "This is so critical to children's well-being and success, especially in the early childhood years."
Project ELEVATE has three components. The first grant priority is a "Classic Professional Development" program for PK-12 teachers serving dual language and emergent bilingual students who want to earn an ESL endorsement or TESL Graduate Certificate. The second grant priority is a "Grow Your Own" program for bilingual/bicultural paraprofessionals who wish to become teachers. Participating paraprofessionals can earn an undergraduate degree with a teaching license and ESL Endorsement. They can choose from two pathways: an Associate of Arts in elementary education (ELED) for those interested in teaching in K-6 classrooms or, for those with an early childhood education focus, a Bachelor of Science in integrated birth-kindergarten and special education (B-K/SPED).
The third grant priority is a year-round, community-based, early bilingual education initiative. It includes two bilingual playgroups during the school year, a bilingual reading summer program and service-learning opportunities for teachers participating in the ELEVATE project. This third component aims to enrich students' biliterate and academic development.
Lastly, the grant provides public awareness of bi/multilingualism, including social media campaigns. Project ELEVATE's goal is to serve 36 PK-12 in-service teachers, 18 former professional development participants, 16 bilingual/bicultural paraprofessionals and 144 multilingual children and their families over five years.
"After several years of conversation and work around the possibilities of collaborating, we're excited to extend Dr. Gonzales Worthen's work on 'Grow Your Own' programs through these initiatives," Herold said.
The two agree that the combined multidisciplinary expertise of their team and the support of both colleges strengthens their ability to meet the needs of teachers and families in the region. "Our vision is to explore how to make 'Grow Your Own' programs sustainable. We'll have five years to figure that out," Gonzales Worthen said.