In Texas, the school districts most in need of teachers with specialized training are also the districts that can have a hard time finding those teachers. Here in Northeast Texas, a multi-agency partnership involving Texas A&M University-Commerce has been working to help solve that problem.
Mark Haslett: It’s a federally funded program known as Profes, p-r-o-f-e-s. The goal of the program is to increase the number of bilingual educators in Northeast Texas. The program includes scholarships and support programs for undergraduate and graduate students pursuing degrees in bilingual and ESL education at A&M-Commerce.
Dr. Laura Chris Green: There is a very severe shortage of especially bilingual teachers in Texas. There has been for the 40 years I’ve been involved. I was one of the first bilin gual teachers in Texas, back in 1976. In the State of Texas, in our K-12 public schools, there are 950,000 students who need bilingual and ESL services. And we just can’t find enough teachers to serve them.
Haslett: Dr. Laura Chris Green is the university’s principal investigator for the Profes grant, which is a five- year grant that’s in its fourth year. The total amount of the grant is just less than $1.6 million. Most of that money has gone to pay for future teacher or administrator education.
Green: The biggest thing we spend money on is we give away scholarships and fellowships – scholarships to undergraduates and fellowships to graduate students. And our undergraduate students, are becoming – they’re future bilingual teachers. So they’re here taking courses with us they’re working on a Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies –
Haslett: Green says that more than $700,000 in scholarships and fellowships have been paid out so far, with about $200,000 more scheduled to be awarded in coming semesters. Green says that the funds have helped people study at A&M-Commerce who wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.
Green: Because they tell me, if I weren’t getting this scholarship, I wouldn’t be here, working on a master’s degree, or a doctorate, or a bachelor’s degree. And so we’ve had good increases number of students that are in these programs.
Haslett: Perhaps just as importantly, the grant also funds support programs to help students following an ESL education career path. One program sets up undergraduates with grad student mentors. Another is called Enriquecemos, or “we enrich.” It helps heritage speakers of Spanish get their language skills ready for an academic setting.
Green: A lot of the undergraduates were born and raised and educated – in fact, the majority - in the United States, usually in the Dallas area. And so their English has become quite strong, but their Spanish is weak. What we call their academic Spanish, reading and writing. They speak Spanish, but they don’t have the literacy skills that they need to be bilingual teachers. Or to pass the new test – we have a test they have to take, a certification test, that’s very challenging, a five-hour test in Spanish, reading, writing, listening and speaking.
Haslett: You can find links to learn more about the projects funded by the Profes grant – and to apply for a scholarship - at our website, KETR dot org.