DOE awards UMSL $2.6M grant to bolster English language educators across Missouri

UMSL College of Education’s Kim Song (at right) and Sujin Kim are leading the UMSL efforts on the $2.6 million federal grant. Song serves as principal investigator. Kim is one of two co-PIs. (Photo by August Jennewein)

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of English Language Acquisition awarded the University of Missouri–St. Louis a $2.6 million National Professional Development grant to support and train educators of English language learners.

The five-year grant funds a project in the UMSL College of Education called Strengthening Equity and Effectiveness for Teachers of English Learners.

SEE-TEL was created by UMSL Associate Professor Kim Song, University of Missouri–Columbia Associate Professor Lisa Dorner and UMSL Assistant Research Professor Sujin Kim after they observed how an influx of refugees to Missouri, as well as other immigrant and migrant worker families, created a need for more skilled educators of English learners in the state.

MU Associate Professor Lisa Dorner serves as one of the co-PIs on the grant. (Photo courtesy of Lisa Dorner)

Song serves as the principal investigator for the grant. Dorner and Kim are co-PIs with MU subcontracting on the project.

“I really had those refugee and immigrant children and parents on my heart,” said Song, who is originally from South Korea. “I’m an immigrant and second language learner myself. I want to help refugee and immigrant children and their families engage in school activities and learning. I want them to be seen and heard and wish to impact their learning and help teachers.”

Song said that the Midwest can often be the “forgotten region” as a gateway for immigrants, but that’s simply not the case.

“We should be ready for diversity and help these people communicate freely and in a way that prepares them for everyday life,” added Kim, who is also originally from South Korea.

The federal grant brings SEE-TEL to four different Missouri school districts: the Bayless School District in south St. Louis County, the Carthage R-9 School District in rural Southwest Missouri, the Columbia Public Schools in mid-Missouri and Kansas City Public Schools.

Kansas City Public Schools alone saw a 180 percent increase in refugee enrollment over the last school year and had only one TESOL-certified teacher for every 93 English learners for grades K-6.

The SEE-TEL project has five main components:

  • sponsoring two groups of 25 in-service teachers selected for additional TESOL Certification through a UMSL College of Education fully online program
  • training instructional coaches to provide on-site mentoring and model best practices for EL education
  • a summer institute for participating teachers, administrators and other educators
  • developing EL family engagement activities
  • and providing informal professional development to university faculty and clinical mentors.

In total the project will have 360 participants, including the 50 in-service teachers, as well as education coaches, administrators, staff, parents and university faculty.

“It’s not just individual teachers,” Kim said. “It takes a village to really support these efforts, and this grant has a more comprehensive understanding of that.”

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