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Contact: Mark McGowan, NIU Office of Public Affairs
August 14, 2007
DeKalb — A competitive federal grant ultimately worth $1.5 million will help NIU improve the instruction of English language learners across the top third of the state.
Called “Project Success,” the five-year initiative boosts by 350 the number of classroom teachers and other educators with approval to teach English-as-a-second-language (ESL) and/or bilingual students.
Two hundred and fifty of those are certified K-12 teachers, half of whom work in rural areas and can complete much of the coursework online. Students enroll for a year, including the summer, and will complete six courses worth 18 credit hours.
The rest are principals, superintendents, curriculum leaders, college and university professors and field supervisors of pre-service teachers. These students will attend only a workshop rather than classes.
NIU’s partners include Aurora University, Benedictine University, Judson College, Lewis University and North Central College, all of which can reserve spots for their professors and field supervisors. Partner school districts include DeKalb, Elgin, Schaumburg, Waukegan and the Lee-Ogle Regional Office of Education.
NIU will receive $300,000 each year in the renewable grant, the remaining years of which are subject to annual review. The first round of funding came in July; the first cohort of the students begins in January.
Funding comes from the U.S. Department of Education under Title III of the No Child Left Behind legislation.
Richard Orem, author of the grant and a Presidential Teaching Professor in NIU’s Department of Literacy Education, said the participants of Project Success all will gain a richer understanding of students for whom English is not their native tongue.
“Children of these immigrants are learning English at a faster rate and losing their native tongues at a faster rate. There’s no reason to force them into an English-only world,” Orem said. “The more foundation students get in literacy skills in their own language, the more successful they’ll be in transitioning into mainstream programs. The research is pretty solid in this area.”
Meanwhile, Orem said, enlightening teachers to the value of first-language development should create a ripple effect through schools. The project’s workshop component for school administrators also means that important wave will come from the top.
Project Success comes at a time when English language learners are the fastest-growing population in Illinois schools, especially in NIU’s service region. In fact, Orem said, enrollment in K-12 public schools would show a net loss without the ELL students.
“A lot of teachers aren’t prepared,” he said, adding that many teachers are aware of that deficiency in their training and mention it when surveyed.
“We’re helping school districts to meet the requirement of having highly qualified teachers in their buildings. Teachers also tell us that their building principals want to help but don’t have the right tools,” he added. “We’re going to make a significant impact on the quality of instruction in our northern Illinois region.”
Graduates of Project Success will become slower to criticize a student’s occasional use of his or her first language, Orem said.
They’ll also have instructional strategies such as collaborative teaching and grouping of students – “These students rely on interactions with others,” he said – along with assessment tips and formal and informal instruments for those measurements.
An unusually high mobility rate for English language learners can make assessment difficult, Orem said, but instruction could work to improve the stability of those populations.
Project Success follows on the heels of Project QUILL, an earlier program also focused on raising the number and quality of teachers who serve English language learners. Project QUILL’s five years of federal funding expires Sept. 30.
NIU also is involved in the Transition to Teaching Program, another federally funded project that recruits and trains bilingual teachers. Partners in the grant include the Chicago Public Schools and the Illinois Resource Center, where the program is managed.
The Title II grant, part of No Child Left Behind, addresses the critical shortage of bilingual teachers in Illinois by identifying and assisting candidates from other fields who wish to change careers and become bilingual teachers.
Participants are fluent in English and another language targeted by the state and already have bachelor’s degrees in any subject. The first cohort of 30 began the two-and-a-half year curriculum in the fall of 2005. Similar cohorts have started each semester since then, and the final group begins this fall.
For more information about Project Success, call (815) 753-8556.
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