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Tuesday, October 3, 2023

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Project Access will provide “emergency” educators an opportunity to earn a bilingual credential online in as little as one year. Project Access will provide “emergency” educators an opportunity to earn a bilingual credential online in as little as one year.

New Partnership Addresses California’s Rural Bilingual Educator Shortage

SDSU's Project Access will offer an opportunity to earn a bilingual credential online in as little as a year.
By Michael Klitzing

Across California, school districts are scrambling to fill a severe shortage of bilingual educators to keep up with the growing numbers of English learners in the classroom. The need in rural communities is particularly acute.

As a result, many schools have turned to teachers with only bachelor’s degrees and “emergency credentials” — one-year permits typically given to substitutes — to fill in the gaps.

A new collaboration between San Diego State University’s Department of Dual Language and English Learner Education (DLE), Feather River College and the Butte County Office of Education is stepping up to address the problem. Project Access, as the new program is called, will provide “emergency” educators an opportunity to earn a bilingual credential online in as little as one year.

“What we're doing here at DLE is growing our own teachers — particularly in the field of bilingual education,” said Margarita Machado-Casas, professor and chair in DLE. “Project Access will provide teachers who are in the classroom on emergency credentials a pathway to come into our program. We hope to use this pilot project as a springboard to expand this further.”

Supported by a $500,000 grant from the California Community College Teacher Credentialing Partnership Pilot Program, Project Access will enable rural educators to take preparatory courses through Feather River College before matriculating into SDSU’s online bilingual credential program. The project will support 20 educators per year in Plumas County, about an hour northeast of Sacramento, as well as rural communities in Southern California through partnerships with the San Diego County Office of Education and Imperial County Office of Education.

Machado-Casas and Guillermo Castillo, DLE lecturer and senior director of future educator support for the Butte County Office of Education, will serve as co-principal investigators on the project. They are currently leading recruitment for the first cohort of 20 students who will begin taking courses in January 2021.

Advancing diversity, equity and inclusion in research, teaching and in community engagement is at the forefront of the university’s new five-year strategic plan, "We Rise We Defy: Transcending Borders, Transforming Lives."

Overcoming Challenges

Castillo said that as immigration restrictions have tightened, previously transient communities following seasonal employment have opted to stay in the U.S. year-round, often gravitating to rural areas where the cost of living is less expensive.

“A lot of rural communities are seeing a flux in their migrant populations, with lots of first-generation kids whose primary language is Spanish or Nahuatl or other native languages.” Castillo said. “And they're coming into communities that, in the past, traditionally didn't have these populations. So places that had maybe one or two English learners suddenly now have 40 or 50.”

This has created challenges for school districts in areas that haven’t traditionally offered credential programs to train bilingual educators. Poor proximity to public universities and the cost of private online programs have also hampered the ability of rural teachers to earn bilingual credentials.

Project Access will help break down another common barrier for rural teachers: lack of reliable internet connectivity. Each credential student will be set up with a technology pack, which includes a laptop, carrying case and mobile wifi hotspot.

“In our online credential program, we've seen students in rural areas going to McDonald’s to access the wifi because their access to connectivity was so bad,” Machado-Casas said. “Having an online credential program is not enough. There are other things that we have to take into consideration if we want to create a pipeline of future bilingual teachers across the state.”

Unlikely Partnership

DLE, the only autonomous bilingual education program in California, has recently grown into the state’s largest producer of bilingual education teachers. Much of the growth is thanks to its online program, started two years ago in partnership with the Butte County Office of Education. In just two years, the online program has enabled 155 classified staff members in schools across the state to earn bilingual teaching credentials.

“This partnership with San Diego State has been a very positive experience for our county,” Castillo said. “It seems weird that Butte County is partnering with the most southern school in the CSU, but you know, sometimes great partners just find each other. It's something that we're very happy to be a part of.”