Georgia State University faculty members Laura May, Nancy Schafer and Diane Truscott have received a five-year, $2.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of English Language Acquisition to educate teachers to work with bilingual learners in Atlanta Public Schools and the DeKalb County School District, two partners the team worked with to develop the grant.
Their project, entitled “Todos Juntos: Uniting Communities to Improve Practice for English Learners (Juntos),” supports teachers in the field and students in the Department of Early Childhood & Elementary Education’s urban accelerated certification and master’s program in order to improve English language learners’ academic achievement.
This funding will allow May, Schafer and Truscott to extend the work they’ve done over the last five years with their federally funded Quality Instruction for English Learners project, which focused on school-based professional development targeting science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) instruction for English language learners.
They’ll still provide professional development opportunities focused on children learning English as an additional language, but the Todos Juntos project will better incorporate families and communities in the work.
“Within the previous project, it was clear that the most successful collaborative innovations were those that included meaningful family and community components,” May said. “For example, at Hightower Elementary in DeKalb County, teachers and parents worked together to create a community garden that could be used by both the community and by teachers who wanted to expand student science learning.”
Researchers will work with the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning, Georgia State’s Best Practices Training Initiative and The Green School to expand professional development opportunities to include partner elementary schools’ pre-kindergarten teachers. They will also support dual language immersion programs so students learn content in both their native language and another language.
The number of school-aged children identified as English language learners in Georgia public schools is on the rise – up 30 percent over the last five years, with the most growth in the metro-Atlanta area, according to the Georgia Department of Education. The Todos Juntos project addresses this demographic shift by working to bridge the gap between educators and their students’ families.
“Family involvement and early student success are closely linked,” May said. “Though parents are concerned for their children’s education and able to be supportive and useful, it can be difficult for them to gain access to relevant conversations, especially when English is not their first language. It’s critical to the success of Atlanta-area urban schools for family and community voices to be incorporated into professional learning opportunities in ways that expand family engagement and make communication between schools and families easier for each.”