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GETS $221,168

Bush, Paige Support Efforts

Despite setbacks for bilingual education in California, Michele Hewlett-Gómez is UpBEATT about such programs in Texas.

Hewlett-Gómez received word this week that the U. S. Department of Education is providing $221,168 in funding for the third year of her five-year United Program for Bilingual Educators as Teachers and Trainers (UpBEATT). The Sam Houston State University program is designed to help relieve the nation's critical shortage of highly-skilled bilingual educators.

The program combines academic training with a field-based mentorship in the Conroe, Cypress-Fairbanks and Aldine school districts, pairing veteran bilingual educators with student protégés.

Hewlett-Gómez believes simply that language minority students often need more than a year to become proficient in English. This is all that California schools can legally offer since the passage and implementation of Proposition 227.

"One year of learning a language is not sufficient," said Hewlett-Gómez.

And what happens when language minority students don't get such training?

"They drop out," she said. "They do not become competitive citizens. You and I pay for it."

While her belief in the process is stronger than ever, Hewlett-Gómez recognizes that bilingual educators as well as others in public education should be ready to examine what is working well and what is not, and to make changes if necessary.

She is especially heartened by supportive comments from Texas governor George W. Bush.

"Our goal in Texas is to teach all our children to read and comprehend in English," said Bush. "The ability to speak English is key to success in America. If a bilingual program is not teaching children to read and comprehend in English as quickly as possible, it should be eliminated.

"But if a bilingual program is helping to achieve the goal of teaching children to read and comprehend in English," Bush said, "then we should applaud it and say well done. We must use our accountability system to judge which programs are achieving the results we want."

A strong endorsement also came from Houston school district superintendent Rod Paige.

"Bilingual education in HISD works," he said. "The proof is in the test scores...Clearly the bilingual program is a tremendous success."

Under the terms of the UpBEATT project, the 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 75-100 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.

The project was Initially funded in 1995 by an Education Department grant authorized through the Improving America's Schools Act of 1994.

The recent controversy has also had the effect of making students more closely examine the rationale and research behind bilingual programs, said Hewlett-Gómez. Students stick with the program, and demand for their services upon graduation is high.

"We have a very low attrition rate," she said. "Of those who have taken the courses, less than one percent have dropped out."


Media Contact: Frank Krystyniak
Aug. 6, 1998
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