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Education Week: Bilingual Teachers Are in Short Supply. How 3 Districts Solved That Problem

“As schools work to recruit more teachers, some of the most in-demand job candidates are those who speak more than one language,” reports Ileana Najarro and Madeline Will in Education Week.

English learners, a majority of whom are Spanish speaking, are the fastest growing student population in the country, and the need for educators who can effectively communicate with and support learners in their academic journey continues to rise.

Recognizing the potential within their own ranks, leading districts in Alabama, Oklahoma, and Oregon have turned to bilingual paraprofessionals to build a diverse and multilingual teaching workforce.

“‘We have a need for more multilingual or bilingual teachers,’ said Conor Williams, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation think tank who researches multilingual educators and programs. ‘We have these candidates that have all of these valuable skills working as multilingual paraeducators—the only thing they’re missing is the credentials recognizing these skills.’”

Solution #1: Higher education institutions offer work placement programs

"In general, programs that help paraprofessionals gain their bachelor’s degrees and/or teacher certification need to address the following issues, Williams said: Teacher candidates need to pay as little out of pocket as possible to participate; class times need to be on a flexible schedule to allow for candidates to keep their paid day jobs; and programs need to value the existing linguistic and teaching skills paraprofessionals develop in their day jobs, especially if the goal is to grow a bilingual teacher pipeline.

Enter Reach University."

“'The barriers to grow-your-own efforts and the barriers to achieving representation in schools that more closely matches the students in schools when it comes to the staff are the systemic barriers in the United States to achieving a bachelor’s degree,' said Joe Ross, president of Reach University."

Superintendent Heath Grimes, of Alabama's Russellville City Schools, has utilized Reach University's affordable and fully job-embedded program to recruit bilingual aides, ready to train to become qualified teachers in his district. Paraprofessionals such as Elizabeth Alonzo.

Initially hired in 2021, Alonzo completed her bachelor's degree in December of 2023, and is now completing her teacher licensure to become an EL Teacher in Russellville starting in Fall '24. She is also pursuing a master's degree in education.

“'I don’t know what I would be doing now if I had not been given that opportunity,' Alonzo said. 'I know at the beginning of this school year, they were excited to see that I was going to be in their classroom, the Hispanic students, because they have somebody that looks like them that they can feel more comfortable with."

Grimes shared of Reach's program and its impact: "“It’s not too good to be true. It’s actually true,' he said."

Read the full article and explore all three "grow your own" solutions here.

Elizabeth Alonzo works as a bilingual aide with 2nd grade student Esteycy Lopez Perez at West Elementary in Russellville, Ala., on Dec. 9, 2022. Alonzo obtained her bachelor's degree through a partnership with Reach University and the Russellville city schools district.

Photo credit: Tamika Moore for Education Week

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