The U.S. Department of Education awarded $2.6 million in funding through its Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) to the UCF College of Education and Human Performance in collaboration with the UCF College of Arts and Humanities to prepare 100 highly qualified dual language K-12 teachers through a technology enhanced dual language education graduate certificate.
The project, titled Dual Language Support through Technology Enhanced Programs and Strategies (DL STEPS), seeks to improve English learners’ (ELs) academic achievement by fostering dual language programs across the Greater Orlando and Tampa Bay areas.
ELs are the fastest growing division of the K-12 student population. Research on bilingual instruction suggests that sustained support in the native language increases the overall performance in both languages. Joyce Nutta, who is the lead investigator, said the program is setting a precedent for working in interdisciplinary ways to address a community need.
“We hope to have a positive impact on their achievement, which is measured in English in Florida schools through offering dual language programs that use their home language as an asset and help them develop their second language.”
Co-principal investigator, Florin Mihai, further explained, “We’re taking a different approach. We are bringing the native language into focus as a tool for improving overall achievement proficiencies in both languages.”
Although there are benefits to dual language instruction, there are also challenges. Kerry Purmensky, co-principal investigator, shared that finding qualified personnel to teach in a dual language environment is a challenge for schools.
“It can be difficult finding teachers who are comfortable with dual language instruction. That is why we are working with teachers to create and offer this certificate. When schools and principals are thinking about implementing a dual language model there will be teachers out there who say yes.”
During the first year of the grant, the research team will be observing the partner schools and developing coursework for the certificate based on research and teacher feedback.
Jerry Johnson, co-principal investigator, will help with the leadership aspects of the grant and work with principals who are implementing dual language programs by setting up professional learning communities for the schools’ faculty.
There is also a strong parental component to this project. The team will create customized videos per partner school in English and Spanish to explain the benefits of dual language education.
Undergraduate students with a high proficiency in both English and Spanish languages will provide virtual homework assistance as the parents often do not know the second language that their children are learning.
DL STEPS is occurring when thousands of Puerto Ricans are relocating to Central Florida due to Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Project coordinator Susanne Pena, a native of Puerto Rico, is working with local community leaders to help improve educational opportunities for newly arrived PreK-12 students, including preparing their teachers to help them become fully proficient in English and Spanish.
“It’s very timely with knowing how many students are coming from Puerto Rico right now,” said Nutta. “This will be a way to support their continuing education in their home language as well as develop proficiency in English.”