• by Josie Danini Supik, M.A. • IDRA Newsletter • August 1999

Josie Cortez Josie Danini Supik, M.A. As borders (fronteras) are crossed, change occurs on both sides. Perhaps there is a better understanding and empathy for the other side. With the exchange of ideas, beliefs and values, there is the discovery that there are more similarities than differences – that beyond the borders we create, we all are committed to the same things.

In May of 1998, the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA) was awarded funding for five years from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to develop teacher preparation and leadership development programs to increase the number of teachers prepared to teach English in bilingual and multicultural environments. Thus began Project Alianza (Alliance) – an extraordinary journey that crosses borders – of countries, cultures, organizations, world views and experiences.

Project Alianza has been a unique vehicle for crossing borders. This alliance of committed and dedicated organizations – IDRA, the Mexican and American Solidarity Foundation, Arizona State University, California State University at Long Beach, Southwest Texas State University, the University of Texas-Pan American, and the University of Texas at San Antonio – began with individual relationships. Now, one year later, a true alliance exists that transcends the individual relationships and includes others we have met on the journey, such as the registrar who now “sees” the value of teacher training in Mexico and has changed her part of the world by making the admission process easier for normalistas.

Project Alianza’s objectives include:

  • Increasing the number of bilingual teachers by enabling the certification of teachers (teacher aides and regular students from the United States and normalista teachers trained in Mexico);
  • Promoting the contextual understanding and interaction among parents, communities, schools, colleges and universities, and policy-makers;
  • Developing leadership skills for working with diverse students;
  • Conducting research that will inform the university community on reform efforts at the university level;
  • Disseminating research findings to the university communities, surrounding communities and policy-makers; and
  • Establishing ties between U.S. and Mexico universities, enabling professor and student exchanges, collaborative research and shared curriculum development.

These objectives will be accomplished by developing, field-testing and disseminating comprehensive, pluralistic and integrated models. These models will prepare communities and educators to respond to the increasing diversity of student populations in schools (kindergarten to 16) and to exercise leadership in responding to these students.

At the end of the five-year grant period, this project is expected to have the following results:

  • Graduated 200 certified or endorsed bilingual education teachers who are prepared to serve bilingual, bicultural students;
  • Created models that other communities and universities may use to enhance their preparation programs and outreach strategies;
  • Developed capacity among a wide range of stakeholders to serve an educational system that must be effective in educating a diverse student population through leadership in diversity skills training;
  • Informed the university community through a series of research reports on reform efforts at the university level that will support public schoolwide reform directed at increasing the achievement of Hispanic students and eliminating the achievement gap between minority and majority students; and
  • Tapped unused resources that improve the quantity and quality of teachers of bilingual and bicultural students.

Evaluating Project Alianza

The evaluation process is also a collaboration with all alliance partners capturing the key events and processes through quarterly reporting to IDRA. At our meetings, in our conversations, in all of our interactions, we strive to listen, understand and document important and valuable insights.

Although we are still at the beginning of this journey, we have already made great strides. There has been an overwhelming response to the call for Alianza applicants. More than 300 normalistas and other students from across the United States have wanted to be a part of this effort. Many of the applicants learned of the project through word-of-mouth alone. Sixty-two students (22 more than planned during this first year) have already been admitted and are enrolled in Alianza universities.

Each student comes with his or her own story. Two students walked off the migrant fields as workers and walked into an Alianza university and are now enrolled to become teachers. It is these stories that re-affirm our commitment to the success of Project Alianza. In its infancy, the project is already making a difference in the lives of all who are a part of it.

Teacher Preparation

Four universities were to recruit and enroll 10 normalistas as the first cohort of students to their bilingual education programs. The four universities identified more than 300 normalistas and other students for the program and enrolled 62 students (57 normalistas and five paraprofessionals).

  • California State University at Long Beach identified more than 75 normalistas, received applications from 31 normalistas, and enrolled 13 normalistas into the program.
  • Southwest Texas State University identified seven normalistas and 25 paraprofessionals, received applications from seven normalistas, and enrolled five normalistas and five paraprofessionals.
  • The University of Texas Pan-American identified more than 100 normalistas, received applications from 53 normalistas, and enrolled 12 normalistas (three of the normalistas are also paraprofessionals).
  • The University of Texas at San Antonio identified more than 100 normalistas, received applications from 44 normalistas, and enrolled 19 normalistas. The extraordinary demand and enthusiasm for this effort resulted in the university taking an unexpected path – admitting more than the 10 students originally planned for this first year. By leveraging university resources (in one case a US Department of Education Title VII project), more students were accepted and admitted into Project Alianza. One unanticipated benefit is that by accepting the second cohort of students (spring 1999 instead of summer 1999), the students are able to participate in specially-designed intensive English classes and thus expedite their entry into regular academic courses. This is a crucial point given the tremendous need for intensive English language preparation among normalistas.

Finding: Recruitment Strategies

Finding normalistas in the community was not as difficult as anticipated. In fact, the majority of the participating universities have waiting lists for enrollment during the second year of the project. Our challenge will be to ensure that university education programs include normalistas as part of their regular recruitment efforts.

Finding: University Admissions Policies and Procedures

Educating admissions officers about the comprehensiveness of the professional teacher preparation programs of normalistas has allowed for greater flexibility in accepting major portions of course work and granting degree credit. Our challenge will be to ensure that universities institutionalize a process for evaluating normalistas’ course work for students who are not part of the project.

Findings: University-based Support Systems

First, participating universities have unique strategies for developing English language proficiency. Sharing strategies has allowed them to capitalize on each other’s successes and collectively strengthen their individual language development programs. Second, situations must be established where normalistas partner with regular bilingual education students. This has a profound impact on the development of language proficiency in English and Spanish and in developing sensitivity for cultural and linguistic differences. Third, universities must be flexible and pro-active by creating opportunities that facilitate the participation of normalistas.

Our challenges will be to (a) capitalize on the successful components of the different English language development programs and create a series of models that can be shared with other universities; (b) develop a guide for partners to use in mentoring each other and developing sensitivity in teaching a diverse student group; and (c) create a system for supporting students with specific needs.

Finding: Bilingual Teacher Preparation Program Content

Bilingual teacher preparation program content, when delivered in a bilingual mode, provides opportunities for modeling teaching behaviors in a bilingual education classroom. Our challenge will be to provide opportunities for university training personnel to develop proficiency in a second language by partnering with personnel from a sister university in Mexico.

In the next years of the project the following is planned:

  • Alianza universities will continue to recruit the second cohort of 10 paraprofessionals to the program.
  • Alianza universities will continue to work with normalistas.
  • Alianza universities will provide intensive English-language training to normalistas and Spanish-language training to English-speaking bilingual education students.
  • Alianza universities will establish a mentoring program between normalistas and other bilingual education students and provide specialized counseling.

Leadership in Diversity

Dr. Blandina Cárdenas, a professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, provided technical assistance to Project Alianza staff regarding the development of the leadership in diversity model. IDRA also developed a concept paper describing an “asset model” for developing the leadership in diversity model. This asset model allows for the discovery of partners’ capacities and assets and the application of those assets to seeking solutions to barriers that affect the development of a community.

Finding: Partnerships and Assets

As a general rule, universities and communities operate in a “provider to client” mode rather a partnership mode where both share a common goal and capitalize on each other’s unique assets to reach that goal. Our challenge will be to model and experience the benefits of educating a community as a partnership that acknowledges, cultivates and nurtures those assets that the university and community bring to the table.

Future plans regarding leadership in diversity include the following.

  • The pilot change model for leadership in diversity will be finalized.
  • Universities will establish committees on leadership in diversity that include school people, community leaders, parents, students and university personnel to provide guidance to the university in designing changes and in monitoring the implementation of the changes during the five years.
  • IDRA will provide technical assistance to universities in implementing committees on leadership in diversity.
  • IDRA will provide training to universities’ committees on leadership in diversity.

Dissemination of Innovations

Arizona State University is completing research to support universities in their reform efforts for admission and preparation of bilingual education students. The research will encompass the following areas.

  • Spanish Language Competencies for Bilingual Education Teachers will address the teacher’s level of competency in the home language of students and how competencies should be developed and measured.
  • The Restructuring of “Escuelas Normales” in México will reveal how normal preparation in México compares to teacher education in the United States and the different eras of change in the normal curriculum in the last 20 years.
  • Instructional Competencies for Bilingual Education Teachers will discuss the commonalities of practice and competencies.

The three monographs will be available for dissemination in the next few months.

Finding: Dissemination of Innovations

Dissemination of project findings requires an identification of targeted audiences, their specific information needs and preferred dissemination modes. Our challenge will be to design dissemination protocols that best serve targeted audiences and stakeholders.

The University of Texas at San Antonio will look at three research questions:

  • In what ways are normalistas unique as a group in terms of background, experience, beliefs and attitudes, when compared to U.S.-educated pre-service bilingual teachers?
  • For normalistas, how do differences manifest themselves in terms of strengths within the teacher preparation program, challenges faced in preparing them as bilingual education teachers, challenges they face in becoming effective classroom teachers within the US educational system, and identity and belief systems?
  • In what ways can distinctly unique characteristics of the different cohorts (normalistas and paraprofessionals) be used to enhance the pre-service preparation experience of all bilingual education teacher candidates?

The University of Texas-Pan American will use its experience with Project Alianza to look at the implementation of a dual language teacher preparation model. Also, the university will prepare a report that contains the participants stories.

Binational Collaboration

A senior fellows seminar about México was held this summer. The seminar provided a broad, diverse and insightful vision of the economical, political, educational, social and cultural aspects of today’s México. This school-based institute is providing an in-depth, first-hand look at another system, values, beliefs and behaviors. Participants included IDRA staff, Project Alianza coordinators, university faculty and admissions officers. This exciting exchange is enhancing the sensitivity, understanding and compassion of those involved in the preparation of teachers who work with children of Latino or Mexican background in the United States. This is an extension of work that the Mexican and American Solidarity Foundation has already undertaken.

This idea is the result of people sharing their successes with each other. California State University at Long Beach already has a cultural exchange of professors teaching courses for Project Alianza. Presently, professors from La Universidad Pedagógica de Nacional de México in Mexicali are working with Project Alianza students – one professor is teaching anthropology and one professor is teaching mathematics.

Finding: Binational Collaboration

Teaching and understanding the bilingual student in the United States is enriched by creating binational collaboratives where teachers and universities exchange pedagogical views and ideas. Our challenge will be to establish a system of binational collaboratives that become institutionalized and transcend the life of Project Alianza.

Institutional Changes and Institutional Relationships

As mentioned earlier, at California State University at Long Beach, an instructor from La Universidad Pedagógica de Nacional de México is teaching anthropology to Project Alianza students. The faculty and staff have become very accepting of using professors from México to assist in the teaching of certain courses.

Prior to Project Alianza, CSULB piloted a program involving normalistas coming from México to take classes in the United States. Faculty and staff taught classes to these students. The project coordinator stated that now that the faculty and staff have taken ownership of project, they feel the quality of courses they teach needs to be improved and that previously they had not been doing an adequate job. Faculty and staff have raised their own expectations about teaching normalistas.

Classes are taught on Saturdays and Sundays at California State University at Long Beach to enable normalistas to maintain jobs during the week. The University of Texas-Pan American, the University of Texas at San Antonio and Southwest Texas State University provide classes at night.

Spreading the Word

Since its inception, Project Alianza has generated great interest in the media with articles already written by the San Antonio Express-News and the Los Angeles Times. IDRA’s web site for Project Alianza is being accessed for information and contacts. In addition, the IDRA Newsletter, reaching more 8,000 policy-makers, educators, foundations and community-based organizations, has featured the progress and accomplishments of the project. Information about Project Alianza will also be available to the general public through the National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education (NCBE) – a federally-funded project that is the repository for critical information on bilingual education in this country (NCBE also distributes internationally upon request) – research journals.

Project Alianza has had a remarkable beginning, enrolling many more students than originally anticipated, garnering institutional support, leveraging resources, creating and strengthening relationships among individuals and institutions. One of the factors that has accelerated the journey has been the unwavering commitment of the alliance to clear the path for students. Together, we are sharing our experiences and learning from each other as we take turns leading the way. This is not the end of our story, it is the beginning.

Teacher for the Second Time Around

by María A. Avila

Why did I become a teacher? As a fifth-grader I was a lucky student. My teacher had just graduated and was in an excellent position to do the job and do it right. She set the example of what a good teacher should be and motivated me to become a teacher without knowing it. Time passed, and as I pondered the question of what to do in the future, I thought, “What will it be like to work in a school? Help the community? How will it feel to see the children’s faces to light up once they have learned how to read, write and solve math problems.” It was time to make a decision. So I became a teacher.

My mother, who was born in Texas, told me after I graduated: “Daughter of mine, I am going to arrange all the paperwork for you to come with me to the United States.” In one instant, that statement changed all the plans I had made for my future: teaching, going back to school to get my master’s degree etc. All of a sudden, my life was on hold. A few months later we traveled to Toledo, Ohio, and a new adventure began: learning English.

Learning English became my first priority. Teaching had to wait. Years passed. I found the love of my life, got married, and had children. I took care of them, but teaching was still in my heart. I applied for a job as a teacher’s assistant and I got it. What a joy! Still, there was something missing.

In 1998, John Glen, at age 74, went into space for the second time. At that moment, while watching the shuttle go up to space, something inside of me told me that if he could go into space for a second time at age 74, I can go to school for the second time, too.

Today, at age 47, I know teaching is still in my heart. Ever since I was in the fifth grade, the desire to teach was there and has endured for all these years.

Josie D. Supik, M.A., is the director of the IDRA Division of Research and Evaluation. Comments and questions may be directed to her via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

For more information about this project , contact Linda Cantu, M.A., Project Alianza coordinator at IDRA (210-444-1710).

[©1999, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the August 1999 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]