Trends: Growing Their Own

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Frustrated with the cost and time associated with recruiting bilingual teachers, an increasing number of districts are looking to their own language-minority students for prospective instructors. The Fontana program, which helps student participants pay for college, is seen as one of the most comprehensive models in this nascent movement.

As Nievas points out, it not only helps the district but gives the students a leg up, as well. "There are kids you may think are going straight to McDonald's, but who are trying to improve,'' Nievas says. "This program is something our schools aren't doing enough of: saying, 'We can help you achieve your goals.' ''

A 1993 study done for the U.S. Department of Education estimated that there are at least 35,000 certified bilingual teachers working in schools across the country. The National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE) estimates, however, that U.S. school districts currently need about 175,000 more to serve some 3.5 million limited-Englishproficient students.

School districts have used the grow-your-own approach to teacher recruitment for some time, particularly to bolster the ranks of minority teachers or those who specialize in shortage subject areas. But according to David Haselkorn, president of Recruiting New Teachers, a national, nonprofit organization based in Belmont, Mass., no central clearinghouse keeps track of such programs. Last year, the group released what it says was the first national study of precollegiate recruitment efforts, reporting 216 programs enrolling about 30,000 students. Most of the programs were less than five years old. [See "Developing Teachers,'' April 1994.] Since that study, Haselkorn has learned of 290 more programs aimed at early recruitment of students for teaching careers. "The greatest single reason for these programs,'' he says, "has been to attract minority teachers,'' with a lesser emphasis on special education and bilingual education teachers.

One reason that precollegiate recruitment programs in bilingual education are just starting to expand, says James Lyons, executive director of NABE, is that the field has been fraught with political and pedagogical controversy over how to teach students with limited English skills. "We're in a catch-up mode that's about 10 years behind the times because of this,'' Lyons says.

Another factor, according to Gloria DeNecochea, a program officer for the ARCO Foundation and a former bilingual teacher, is that many American schools place little value on knowing languages other than English. "If kids don't think they're valued, why are they going to assume anyone's interested in hiring them because they have other language capabilities?'' she asks.

Exactly right, says Ariel Nievas. "The club helped me shape my thoughts and understand what my language could do for me,'' he says. "It helps kids who have no clue what they want to do with those skills.''

Jerilynn Smith, coordinator of bilingual programs for the Fontana district, started the growyour-own project in 1990, after making repeated trips to Arizona and Texas to recruit bilingual teachers. She spent about $10,000 each time and came back with only two recruits, both of whom eventually left the district. "Getting people to come here was somewhat of a struggle,'' she says, "so we decided to invest in our own people.''

Approximately 6,000 of the district's 30,000 students have limited proficiency in English, and 98 percent of those students speak Spanish. Most of the others speak Arabic or Vietnamese. Since 1990, the district has spent about $70,000 on the program, using a combination of state and federal funds for immigrant and LEP students.

At the core of the program is a Future Bilingual Teachers of America club that the district originally set up in one high school and now operates in two. The faculty advisers bring in elementarylevel bilingual teachers to work with club members on pedagogy in preparation for apprenticeships as teachers' aides. These apprenticeships usually take place during the summer in the district's elementary schools, which are on a year-round schedule. For this work, students receive school credit and get paid. Seniors can work as aides during the regular school year, as well.

Participating senior Jenny Garcia spends the first two periods of the school day helping elementary students read in Spanish and English. "More and more kids are coming from Mexico and Central America into our community,'' she says. "I want to be able to help and give back something.''

If students like Jenny are still interested in becoming bilingual teachers when they graduate from high school, the district will hire them as bilingual aides and pay for their college education. The students must sign a contract agreeing to work as bilingual teachers in Fontana for the same number of years that they receive financial aid.

The idea seems to have caught on. When Nievas joined the club in 1991, there were 13 members; today there are 80. But as interest in the program has grown, so has the need for certified bilingual teachers. Just four years ago, the district had 10; today it has 52 but needs another 50.

The concept is also gaining attention nationally. When Fontana educators gave a presentation on their program at the NABE annual meeting earlier this year, they spoke to a full house. "More and more districts,'' says Mary Leighton, a researcher for Policy Studies Associates in Washington, D.C., "are realizing they're not going to keep bilingual teachers unless they grow their own.''--Lynn Schnaiberg

Vol. 05, Issue 08, Page 1-24

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