In Vancouver, the number of immigrant students with limited English skills has grown 12 percent a year for each of the past five years. The total topped 1,500 for the first time this year.
Yet fewer than 10 instructors across the district are bilingual. Only five are classroom teachers.
A new partnership between Washington State University at Vancouver, Clark and Lower Columbia community colleges and five local school districts aims to remedy the shortage.
The $ 1.1 million federally funded Bilingual/ESL Teacher Advancement Program aims to add at least 35 bilingual teachers into Southwest Washington classrooms in the next five years and, potentially, many more over time.
The program is one of four efforts to improve teaching and education that WSU Vancouver unveiled at a reception Wednesday at the Salmon Creek campus.
The partnership of colleges and school districts received the federal grant for bilingual teachers in July. Twenty students have begun classes in recent weeks. All are bilingual classroom assistants from Vancouver, Evergreen, Battle Ground and Longview school districts. Kelso also is involved in the partnership.
The program pays for the assistants to go to college and earn teaching credentials. It also provides other financial assistance and job security. Portland State University began a similar program last year, but few Clark County teaching assistants attend, officials said.
The five local districts estimate they need a total of 115 bilingual teachers to help the growing number of immigrant students more easily make the transition to American schools and English.
“Our charge is always to get the kids proficient in English,” said Ron Cabrera, Vancouver’s executive assistant for integrated learning. “What happens is we get kids who are brand new to the United States, and they need some support in their native language until they can learn English.”
Recruiting bilingual teachers from other regions hasn’t worked. “If they were out there we would (hire them),” said Sue Ballard, Evergreen’s manager of ESL programs.
The shortage forces schools to hire bilingual classroom assistants to translate lessons or help answer questions. Most of the assistants are immigrants who are fluent in two languages and two cultures.
“Here we have people who have an extreme gift. They are not only bilingual; they are bicultural. They understand the challenges for people who come from a different culture,” said WSU Vancouver Associate Professor Gisela Ernst-Slavit, who is overseeing the program.
But most of the bilingual assistants have little or no experience teaching. No academic degree or state certification is required, though Clark offers a program to prepare classroom assistants.
Most of the assistants in the new program will attend two years at Clark or Lower Columbia, then transfer to WSU Vancouver, where they will complete a bachelor’s degree in education with an endorsement to bilingual education.
WSU Vancouver is still developing the B.A. education program the first in Southwest Washington. When completed in 2001, the program should eventually be open to students other than the bilingual assistants, officials said.
Bilingual assistants who already have a B.A. but no teaching credential will attend WSU Vancouver’s master’s in teaching program.
Along with free tuition, the bilingual assistants will be allowed to work fewer hours at their school jobs but maintain full medical benefits. The school districts also will help with some other college expenses.
WSU’S THREE OTHER NEW PROGRAMS
Along with the new bilingual teacher program, Washington State University at Vancouver unveiled three additional efforts Wednesday to improve teaching and education. The others are:
. A study into the root causes of the underachievement of black students in science. WSU Vancouver Assistant Professor Obed Norman will lead the effort, funded by a $ 500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. Norman will do research at Portland public schools.
. A project to study ways to enhance WSU Vancouver’s teacher training programs using technology, funded by a $ 175,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education.
. A continued effort to trai* students in WSU Vancouver’s master’s in teaching program how to perform new types of assessments and use the state’s new learning goals, funded by an $ 80,000 grant from the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.