Schools in El Paso, Texas, near the border with Mexico, serve many Hispanic students who enter school not speaking a word of English. Almost a quarter of El Paso’s population is foreign-born, and more than half the residents speak Spanish as their language of preference.
Since last year, the education school at the University of Texas at El Paso, with a three-year, $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, has been attempting to address the special needs of El Paso schools through a project that builds partnerships with community organizations, public schools, and other colleges within the university to recruit, prepare, and retain new teachers in the high-need areas of bilingual education, special education, math, and science. Most are bilingual.
Called STEP UP—short for Strategic Teacher Education Programs to Uplift the Profession—the project aggressively targets recruits from the local community college, including those in the teaching program and undeclared majors who are completing core coursework. Individuals from high-need communities and high school students in education magnet programs at local schools are also targeted.
It has enrolled 150 students since it began, and only nine have dropped out so far, said Claudia Gutierrez, the advising coordinator for STEP UP.
Those accepted receive grants of $1,000 to $10,500 for tuition, fees, and books. Students receive early advising and career guidance and attend a summer leadership academy, among other assistance. Applicants must be U.S. citizens or legal residents, have a minimum grade point average of 3.0, and submit an essay stating why they want to be part of the program.
After graduation, beginning teachers receive support from the project for three years, such as workshops and seminars to develop classroom skills.
The project has been so well received, Ms. Gutierrez said, that in the first year, the university received 300 applications for 20 open spots. It has continued to draw as many as 150 applicants each semester.
A version of this article appeared in the April 11, 2007 edition of Education Week