new initiative aims to boost bilingual teachers in Santa Fe | New Mexico News

By JESSICA POLLARD, Santa Fe New Mexican

SANTA FE, NM (AP) — Dozens of Santa Fe public school teachers plan to participate in a new initiative to increase the number of educators trained to teach English as a second language or lead bilingual classes.

The district allocated $90,000 in federal pandemic assistance last month for the three-year pilot program, which will provide tuition and fee reimbursement to certified teachers taking graduate courses to gain endorsement in teaching English as a second language.

Lisa Vigil, director of the district’s language and culture department, told the Santa Fe New Mexican that a dozen teachers have already signed up for college classes this school year and at least 40 have expressed interest. .

Teachers of the new program can take classes at Northern New Mexico College in Española, Santa Fe Community College or New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas.

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“I was surprised,” Vigil said of those who showed interest in the program. “I didn’t think many teachers would be as interested as them.”

Data shows that 30% of K-12 students at Santa Fe public schools are English language learners, who Vigil says likely struggled to improve their English skills while learning at distance last year.

“I can’t even express in words how much of an impact this has had on our English learners,” she said. “When you’re in a remote environment, you’ve pretty much eliminated a lot of that opportunity to observe because you don’t want to show your face; you don’t want to interrupt the class to ask questions.

Face masks added by Vigil obscure visual cues that help learners master the language.

According to state rules, students learning English must receive 45 minutes of language instruction each day from a qualified teacher. That goal has been harder to achieve in high schools for several years, especially as teacher vacancies remain high across New Mexico, Vigil said.

According to a study by New Mexico State University, only 49 college students statewide completed an endorsement program in bilingual education or teaching English as a second language in a state college or university in the 2020-21 school year, while 9% of the 1,048 teacher vacancies reported in 2021 — more than 90 positions — had “bilingual” specified in the job title.

In Santa Fe public schools, the graduation rate for students identified as English language learners was 82.5%, lower than the district’s overall graduation rate of 86.3% for 2019-20. Statewide, 75.8% of English learners, who made up nearly a third of high school students in the state in 2020, reached the finish line.

“We are seeing teacher shortages (bilingual and English as a second language) and we rely heavily on international exchange teachers or visiting teachers to provide bilingual education,” Vigil said.

Through the new program, reimbursement will apply to tuition for 14 credit hours and will include textbook costs and application fees.

Vigil said the district had a similar reimbursement program several years ago.

“Finding teachers with specialist endorsement is very difficult, so we’re trying to build capacity within our current population of teachers,” Vigil said. “We’re not really able to look outside of our current population of teachers right now.”

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