Washington

Federal grant will help UW build a teacher corps for dual-language classrooms

Erika Arnett, ELL program manager for Peninsula School District in Gig Harbor, works with Peninsula High school student Kantapong Patcharanu in the school’s library.
Erika Arnett, ELL program manager for Peninsula School District in Gig Harbor, works with Peninsula High school student Kantapong Patcharanu in the school’s library. lgiles@gateline.com

Ever since she joined the faculty at the University of Washington 16 years ago, Manka Varghese has tried to persuade the College of Education to invest more in bilingual training for future teachers.

Varghese, who speaks five languages, previously taught English as a second language and studied bilingual programs. But Varghese didn’t see much traction here, possibly because bilingual education wasn’t as popular in Western Washington at the time, she said.

Now, as dual-language programs expand across the region – and as school districts struggle to find teachers to staff them – a new federal grant will help Varghese inch closer to her dream.

“I’ve always wanted to have something like this,” she said. “It was just too hard for us to do on our own.”

In September, the U.S. Department of Education awarded the UW $2.4 million to recruit and train about five dozen bilingual teachers to work in dual-language programs in South King County, Bellevue and Shoreline.

Most of the prospective teachers will be trained to work in English-Spanish classrooms, but some will prepare for Vietnamese-English ones.

Teacher candidates must already have a bachelor’s degree, but the grant will cover half the cost of tuition to get a master’s degree in elementary-education and bilingual-teaching endorsements. Each candidate would save about $21,000 a year, according to a spokesman for the college.

That means bilingual teachers – who, along with other teachers, don’t make high salaries – will avoid taking on a lot of student debt, said Dafney Blanca Dabach, an associate professor at the UW who worked on the grant with Varghese.

Most of the prospective teachers will be trained to work in English-Spanish classrooms, but some will prepare for Vietnamese-English ones. Spanish and Vietnamese are among the most popular languages in the growing number of dual-language programs in Puget Sound-area schools, Varghese said.

Across Washington state, about 320 educators last school year earned endorsements to teach in dual-language programs – an increase of 40 percent since 2009, according to the Professional Educator Standards Board.

Students enrolled in dual-language programs spend half their day learning in their native language and half in another. Studies have shown that such immersive programs help students build better reading skills in English and that learning in two languages yields stronger results than bilingual programs, in which students spend most of their day in English with some support in their native language.

In the 2015-16 school year, nearly two dozen Washington districts used the immersive model. But a new state grant may spur more of them to create or expand dual-language classes this year, fueling the need to hire more bilingual educators.

Varghese said that increased demand, and the growing popularity of dual-language program among families, adds to her commitment to prepare more teachers with multilingual skills.

“Having this (grant) and building evidence of how this is improving schools, families and communities will help reinforce the need,” she said. “Whether we have a grant (in the future) or not, we will continue to work on this so a program like this can survive.”

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