DENTON — Beatriz Urena, 19, remembers with fondness her fourth-grade bilingual teacher, who helped her readjust to the United States.
Ms. Urena, who had returned after a year in Venezuela, was having trouble remembering her English.
“That teacher helped me a lot that year, and it made a big impression on me,” she said.
A recent graduate of Woodrow Wilson High School in Dallas, Ms. Urena has plans to become a bilingual teacher herself, to help other Hispanic students learn English and assimilate into the United States.
Mariana Rodriguez, a recent graduate of Sunset High School in Dallas, also has plans to become a bilingual teacher.
“I see Hispanic people working so hard to learn both languages,” said Ms. Rodriguez, 18. “The earlier the children learn English, the better.”
Both young women have solidified their plans to become bilingual teachers, courtesy of a recently created scholarship program at Texas Woman’s University.
The Future Bilingual Educators Program was developed by TWU in collaboration with the Dallas school district and the Dallas County Community College District. The program is designed to attract high school students to teaching careers in bilingual education, a critical need for the Dallas district and others across Texas.
“There are dramatic changes in the ethnic composition of the student population in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area,” said Rudy Rodriguez, TWU’s executive assistant to the president for community relations and diversity. “Hispanic students are enrolling in record numbers in public schools. . . . In Dallas, Hispanic students are the largest ethnic group in the school district, representing approximately half of the student population.”
Schools also are enrolling students of many other ethnic groups, including those who are Kurdish, Russian, Laotian and Vietnamese, Dr. Rodriguez said.
“These students desperately need teachers who can help them learn English as a second language,” he said.
A $ 1.3 million grant from the U.S. Education Department will fund scholarships for the high school students recruited into the program. After high school, the selected students will spend two years at a community college and two more at TWU to receive their education degree. The students must complete 30 semester hours at the community college to receive the funding for their scholarship at TWU.
“We are also working with the students to get some type of aid for them for their community college years,” said Gus Cedillo, the grant coordinator at TWU.
So far, 25 students, including Ms. Urena and Ms. Rodriguez, who graduated from Dallas district high schools in May, have been recruited into the program. Those students were scheduled to attend a camp at TWU last week to prepare them for their college education and a career in bilingual teaching.
Another part of the program includes assignment of a mentor to help each first-year bilingual teacher through the challenges of the first years of teaching.
“One of the major challenges presented to the schools is how best to meet the needs of a growing language-minority student population,” Dr. Rodriguez said. “The growth of these special-language programs has also created a need for qualified teachers with not only the knowledge and skills to teach limited-English-proficient students, but also with an understanding of their unique cultural background experiences.”
Annette Reynolds is a reporter with the Denton County bureau of The Dallas Morning News.