Education faculty, students shape young minds through language

UMSL graduate student Danielle Coffyn listens as students in her first grade class at St. Louis Language Immersion Schools go over homework.

Danielle Coffyn never imagined she could shape young minds while still having the opportunity to use the language she loves. That was until the French major heard about the University of Missouri–St. Louis  College of Education’s post-baccalaureate teaching certification and master’s program.

She enrolled in the program and soon was placed as a student teacher in the St. Louis Language Immersion Schools.

“I enjoy this environment more than a traditional school because we have the bilingual component,” said Coffyn, who now works full time at SLLIS as a first grade teacher in the French School. “I love teaching  children a new language.”

She is working toward completing her master’s degree in education at UMSL.

St. Louis Language Immersion Schools is a charter school that opened  in 2009 with funding from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and is sponsored by UMSL. The school currently operates two schools within its building at 4011 Papin Street – The French School and The Spanish School.

The partnership between UMSL and SLLIS began several years before the schools opened. Rhonda Broussard, president and founder of SLLIS, moved to St. Louis with her young family and wanted her children to  attend a school where they would use their native language French.  After looking around and learning the local options were limited,  Broussard, who has a background in education, began planning such a school herself. She met with  Joel Glassman, director of International Studies and Programs at UMSL, and the partnership was born. Once the school opened, additional partnerships with UMSL flourished.

“St. Louis Language Immersion School enjoys a wonderful partnership  with UMSL, particularly the College of Education,” Broussard said. “We  have partnerships with assistant professors, undergraduates students  and graduate students who provide essential service to our school community.”

Lisa Dorner, assistant professor in educational psychology, research and evaluation at UMSL, is one of those essential partners. Dorner, who has a child attending SLLIS, wanted to look at parent involvement  in a charter school.

“I was interested in researching and figuring out ‘How do parents really get involved in the founding of a school,’ and once the school is founded, ‘What do they do to sustain the efforts of the school and the education of their own children?’” she said.

Dorner also works with her UMSL undergraduate students to develop after school and volunteer programs at SLLIS.

“It’s a great opportunity for UMSL students who are interested in language,” she said. “By working in the programs, they are engaging with students while surrounding themselves with the language.”

UMSL graduate student Melissa Mallon began student teaching at SLLIS last year. This year, she began working as a math instructor at SLLIS.

“I’m really passionate about teaching Spanish and sharing the language with the students,” she said. “Teaching in a school like this is an amazing experience, having the opportunity to teach while the children are also immersed in rich language and culture, really helps to create a well-rounded citizen.


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