Federal funding once taken from an innovative Sam Houston State University bilingual teacher education program was given back in a May 22 grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The award re-establishes over $1 million for the five-year program designed to help relieve the nation's critical shortage of highly skilled bilingual educators.

Known simply as Project UpBEATT -- an acronym for the United Program for Bilingual Educators as Teachers and Trainers -- the initiative combines academic training with a field-based mentorship component that pairs veteran bilingual educators with student protégés.

"In bilingual classes, the student's language is used as the primary vehicle of instruction and the new language -- English in this case -- is introduced as part of an overall academic curriculum," explained UpBEATT director Michele Hewlett-Gómez, an associate professor in SHSU's language, literacy and special populations department.

"In Texas there are over half a million students in public schools with limited proficiency in the English language," she said. "Of those, approximately 92 percent are Spanish speaking."

A primary goal of Project UpBEATT, Hewlett-Gómez said, is to develop a capacity for preparing bilingual teachers to meet the expanding needs of today's schools. To accomplish this, the program establishes a "support system" through which collaborative sites, community colleges and the university endeavor to recruit and retain quality persons to become teachers for language minority students.

Under the terms of the project, three Houston suburban area school districts -- Aldine, Cypress-Fairbanks and Conroe -- collaborate with SHSU. The districts identify exceptional bilingual teachers interested in serving as UpBEATT mentors and provide part-time opportunities, as tutors or paraprofessionals, for their understudies. The districts also agree to allow time off for project participants -- both mentors and their student protégés -- to pursue academic training.

UpBEATT's undergraduate "preservice teachers" specialize in Spanish and bilingual education at SHSU while pursuing a bachelor of arts degree in academic studies. Their undergraduate curriculum is designed to prepare them for elementary and bilingual education certification from the state.

Most of the "inservice" teachers selected as UpBEATT mentors pursue graduate studies at SHSU. Those who don't are enrolled in a graduate program at another university or are pursuing professional development or credentials in a related field.

Though contracts differ from district to district, most part-time UpBEATT paraprofessionals are paid from 100 to 75 percent of a full-time salary while enrolled in the project. UpBEATT tutors qualify for a monthly stipend of $250 from the grant allocation.

In addition to the program's administrative costs, the grant also pays for SHSU UpBEATT students' tuition, books and for travel expenses to required seminars and conferences .

Initially funded in 1995 by an Education Department grant authorized through the Improving America's Schools Act of 1994, Project UpBEATT lost congressional support during 1996 budget wrangling.

In spite of the setback, the program remained active under the stewardship of Hewlett-Gómez, who with the help of participating school districts, stretched the 1995 funding allocation until new monies could be assigned.

Under the terms of the new federal grant, the project is funded through the year 2001.

Since its inception in 1995, three Project UpBEATT preservice teachers have earned their teaching degrees and taken jobs at a partnership campus. Additionally, 16 inservice teacher/mentors are due to complete master's degrees or receive state credentials in a related educational field.

"Project UpBEATT participants share a common belief," said Hewlett-Gómez. "They believe that students entering public schools need quality teachers who understand the cultural and linguistic diversities of language minority students, who can communicate in both English and Spanish, who can incorporate relevant teaching methodologies and theories, who support the district's philosophies, and who understand that commitment to professional growth is a lifelong process. Together," she continued, "these beliefs have guided our students in the pursuit of a common goal to teach language minority students."

Anyone interested in pursuing or furthering a career in bilingual education can receive more information on Project UpBEATT by calling SHSU's Department of Language, Literacy and Special Populations at (409) 294-1108 or from the program's director, Hewlett- Gómez, at (409) 294-1138. (end)

Media contact: Phillip Rollfing

June 6, 1997