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$1.95 million grant helps improve classroom instruction for English learners

Grant helps improve classroom instruction for English learners

New York State is home to a rapidly growing population of English language learners (ELLs), where nearly one-third of students in the state are immigrant children learning English as an additional language. As student demographics are rapidly changing, the University of Rochester’s Warner School of Education is leading a new charge to champion the needs of nearly 6,000 ELLs in the Greater Rochester Area and support them in meeting high academic standards.
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of English Language Acquisition awarded the Warner School a five-year, $1.95 million National Professional Development grant to provide ELLs access to high-quality instruction across academic subjects and prepare them for success beyond high school.
The federal grant will fund a new project, Western New York Collaboration for ELL Success (Project CELLS), through which the Warner School will partner with the Mid-West Regional Bilingual Education Resource Network (RBE-RN); the Rochester City School District; and Monroe 2-Orleans, Wayne–Finger Lakes, and Genesee Valley BOCES to help school personnel—including teachers, counselors, and leaders—better serve students learning to speak English, as well as increase the number of highly-qualified teachers certified in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). 
The Warner School will be the lead institution of higher education for Project CELLS, which will be directed by associate professors Mary Jane Curry and Judith Fonzi, with assistance from Warner School alumna Rabia Hos, PhD, who brings research and expertise on the experiences of adolescent refugee students with interrupted formal education in secondary schools.
Mary Jane Curry“This grant will enhance our graduate programs across the board by helping teachers, counselors, and administrators to support this growing student population and it will allow our students and faculty, as well as educational professionals locally, to respond to the needs of English learner communities,” says Curry, who directs the TESOL teacher education program at Warner. “Together with our partner institutions, we hope to make a significant impact on the quality of life for culturally and linguistically diverse students in the region.”
Project CELLS will support scholarships for new and veteran teachers to earn TESOL certification, develop curriculum particularly for refugee ELLs, many of whom are students with interrupted formal education (SIFE), and professional development activities intended to improve instruction for students learning English and assist education personnel serving ELLs. In addition to language acquisition, the project also aims to help students learn math and science by providing professional development for science and mathematics teachers who work with ELL students and to address the needs of SIFE, who encounter some of the biggest obstacles to learning enough English language and content knowledge to graduate from high school.
Over the next five years, Project CELLS will prepare a total of 48 TESOL-certified teachers with the support of full- and half-tuition scholarships. Eight aspiring teachers will be able to enroll tuition-free into an entry-level TESOL master’s program and 16 current teachers into an advanced certificate TESOL program for certified teachers. Additionally, 24 aspiring teachers will receive 50 percent scholarships for the entry-level TESOL master’s program. Through coursework and field experiences, all graduate students will deepen their understanding of the English language, linguistics, and language acquisition while learning innovative and effective ways to teach this growing population, particularly SIFE.
The project also capitalizes on the opportunities presented by the creation of the Rochester International Academy, launched last fall in the Rochester City School District as a “newcomer program,” which focuses on intense English language learning and provides additional support and services to immigrant/refugee students who are new to the United States. Under Project CELLS, Warner faculty and teachers in the newcomer program will develop and field test high-quality curriculum, instructional materials, and professional development.
In addition, Project CELLS is intended to provide professional development to all members of the educational team to support student achievement in K-12 schools. Over the next five years, the project will offer training opportunities for all personnel—ESOL teachers, content teachers, counselors, and school leaders—working with ELLs in Monroe and surrounding counties. Nationally known for its expertise in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) professional development, the Warner Center for Professional Development and Education Reform will collaborate with national colleagues, bringing additional expertise in ESOL education, STEM education, and knowledge of ELLs, to develop a cadre of professional development providers and higher education instructors to provide training during and after the grant funding period.
According to Fonzi, who directs the Warner Center, the ongoing professional development is a critical component to supporting the needs of ELLs. “Through this project,” she says, “we will develop a professional development model for teachers, counselors, and school leaders to meet the particular needs of ELL students.”
The National Professional Development program is administered by the Department of Education's Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA). To date, the OELA has awarded more than $24.4 million for professional development activities intended to improve instruction for English learners and assist education personnel working with such children to meet high professional standards.