• by Linda Cantú, M.A. • IDRA Newsletter • February 2002 • Dr. Linda Cantu

Education leaders in Mexico and the United States have forged a powerful alliance to help address the critical teacher shortage facing U.S. schools, particularly teachers serving children, who speak a language other than English.

The Hispanic community has one of the lowest educational levels and one of the highest school dropout rates of any racial or ethnic group in the United States. Hispanic students are greatly underrepresented in colleges and universities compared to their representation in the general population.

One cause for this lack of school success is the shortage of qualified teachers who can serve the growing number of limited-English-proficient (LEP) students in our schools.

Roughly 15 million people of Mexican origin live in the United States. More than half were born in Mexico. According to the Mexican and American Solidarity Foundation (MASF), the educational challenge is a responsibility that should be shared by the educational systems of both Mexico and the United States. Each educational system needs the other to create a successful approach to serve the Mexican American community in the United States. One program that is meeting this challenge is Project Alianza.

Project Alianza

Project Alianza is a model teacher preparation and leadership development initiative, funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, to develop a comprehensive, binational and interdisciplinary program for teacher preparation and leadership development. The Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA) is working in collaboration with the MASF and nine universities (see box below) in Arizona, California, and Texas to prepare educators to work in bilingual and bicultural environments.

Alianza is reconnecting universities and other community assets in a strong and lasting alliance where they mutually seek solutions to barriers that affect the quality of education provided to Hispanic students (Cantú, 1999). Alianza began showing impact from its inception.

Now in its fourth year, this model program has enabled universities to tap three groups who possess the basic requirements of prospective bilingual education teachers. The targeted groups are:

  • bilingual education teacher aides,
  • students in traditional bilingual teacher preparation programs, and
  • normalistas – teachers trained in Mexico to teach in elementary grades and who are legal residents in the United States.

These three groups are developing their leadership skills to serve Hispanic students. The project also is enhancing the capacity of Hispanic and non-Hispanic students and educators to speak Spanish and work in cross-cultural environments, abilities essential to success today.

There has been an overwhelming response to the call for Alianza applicants. Hundreds of normalistas and other students have wanted to be a part of this effort. Many of the applicants learned of the project through word-of-mouth alone. Josie Cortez, of IDRA, reports, “Two students walked off migrant fields as workers and walked into an Alianza university and are now enrolled to become teachers” (Cortez, 2000b).

Specifically, Alianza is preparing these individuals to help fill the shortage of bilingual teachers. The project is creating a model for universities in Mexico and in the United States to collaborate. And, it is establishing a collaborative with universities to assist public schools implement quality bilingual education programs.

Example: Southwest Texas State University

Southwest Texas State University is one of the higher education institutions that is participating in Alianza. During previous years, the bilingual teacher preparation program at this university has been involved in a binational exchange. University students go to Cuernavaca to participate in week-long educational experiences with public schools in Mexico.

The university’s bilingual education department has expanded and strengthened its efforts toward building a binational collaboration through Alianza.

One of these efforts involves increasing the number of bilingual education teachers available to serve the growing Hispanic population in U.S. classrooms. In addition to targeting traditional bilingual education students and paraprofessionals, normalistas are an untapped resource that has been identified by the program to help fill this need. Southwest Texas State University has selected 14 normalistas to participate in the program, and two are now bilingual teachers in Austin. Dr. Nancy Ramos, program director at the university, says the normalista students have enriched the quality of the program by sharing their linguistic and pedagogical expertise with traditional students.

The normalistas in the program are improving their English language proficiency in content areas and are developing a cultural understanding and sensitivity to Hispanic students. They also are filling the need for bilingual education teachers in public school districts surrounding the university.

Traditional bilingual education students and paraprofessionals have also been benefiting from the binational collaboration. During May 2000 and June 2001, Southwest Texas State University sent five of its Alianza traditional and paraprofessional bilingual education students and the bilingual education director and coordinator to participate in the Seminar on the Education and Culture of Mexico held in Saltillo, Coahuila. Alianza students from the university will participate in a second seminar sponsored by the MASF during the spring of 2002.

In conjunction with the Mexico Ministry of Education, the foundation has identified a sister institution in Mexico to collaborate with Southwest Texas State University. The sister university is Escuela Normal Profesor Serafín Peña in Montemorelos, Nuevo Leon.

Southwest Texas State University has initiated a student exchange program with its sister institution. The first student exchange took place in May 2001 when one normalista, one paraprofessional and eight traditional bilingual education students from Southwest Texas State University visited Escuela Normal Profesor Serafín Peña for a one-week intensive exchange program.

During that week, students were given an overview of the history of Mexico and the educational system, including teacher preparation and curriculum used in public schools. The students toured urban and rural schools in Montemorelos. They participated in workshops on Spanish grammar and pedagogy and participated in demonstration levels both as observers and participants.

Traditional students and teacher aides in the program have benefited from this binational exchange. They have learned new pedagogical approaches for working with Hispanic students and have identified new materials and curriculum that can be used in the classroom. They have improved their Spanish language skills generally and in content areas. They have a better understanding of the immigrant student’s educational system and a greater respect for the pedagogical preparation of Mexican teachers. They also have a greater understanding of the social, cultural and socioeconomic structure of Mexico.

The second exchange in July 2001, brought 18 Montemorelos students studying to be teachers and three Montemorelos professors to Southwest Texas State University for a look at the U.S. school system. During the exchange, the university gave an overview of the educational system in the United States and toured students through the university and summer programs in two local school districts. Students were also taken on cultural excursions to Austin and San Antonio. The Montemorelos students participated in English as a second language (ESL) seminars and a day-long mini-conference sponsored by the bilingual education department.

Students and faculty from Southwest Texas State University and the surrounding community have benefited greatly from the binational collaboration as a result of participation in Alianza. The general education department at the university is finding ways to better serve its normalista students, including learning ESL strategies and using them in their teaching.

The university admissions office has identified a staff person to work with Project Alianza students, particularly normalistas, and assist them through the admissions process.

There is university-wide recognition of the program. Other non-bilingual faculty (reading, curriculum and instruction, technology) have been involved in the binational exchange program. The international office has formed a strong relationship with Alianza and works to individualize programs that better suit students’ needs. A local school district is exploring ways to include its teaching staff in the binational effort, including participation in exchange programs and seminars initiated by Alianza.

Binational Collaboration

Alianza is also fostering binational collaboration to establish ties between US and Mexican universities, enabling professor and student exchanges, collaborative research and shared curriculum development. The collaborative activities (seminarios) provide a unique experience for students to learn the intricacies and richness of the educational system in Mexico (Cortez, 2000).

This binational collaboration is a powerful element of Alianza. As part of this effort, the MASF has created a partnership with the Ministry of Education in Mexico and U.S. universities participating in Alianza and acting as an intermediary between them. Through this partnership, U.S. universities have been able to obtain, directly from the Ministry of Education, school transcripts and interpretation of course work for normalista students who have attended a school or university anywhere in Mexico. This relationship has helped expedite these students’ acceptance into U.S. universities, where they had faced multiple barriers before.

The Ministry of Education has identified a person within its institution to respond directly to requests for school transcripts by directors of Alianza programs. The Ministry of Education has modified procedures that allow normalistas in the United States who did not complete their teaching credentials in Mexico to receive them.

The foundation is sponsoring a seminar on the education and culture of Mexico to traditional bilingual education students and paraprofessional students seeking degrees in bilingual and bicultural education. It also is sponsoring a senior fellows seminar on Mexico for the professors, directors and coordinators of Alianza. The foundation is providing research on teacher preparation for teachers in Mexico and is providing information on the curriculum and teaching strategies used in student learning.

Seminars on the Education and Culture of Mexico

The MASF also has sponsored two seminars on the education and culture of Mexico for Alianza participants. The seminars were held in Saltillo, Coahuila, and Hermosillo, Sonora in Mexico. About 40 future bilingual education teachers, paraprofessionals and professors participated in these two seminars. Two more seminars are planned for the spring of 2002.

Each seminar is a seven-day theoretical and practical program that gives Alianza students a greater understanding of the socioeconomic and cultural reality of Mexican children. It includes a general understanding of the educational system and the teaching and learning system in Mexico through conferences, workshops, visits to schools and teaching experiences in Mexican schools.

The overall objective of the seminar is to give Alianza’s future teachers an opportunity to upgrade their professional capacity as teachers in bilingual and bicultural environments where a great majority of their students are Mexican immigrants or students of Mexican descent.

Senior Fellows Seminar on Mexico

A Senior Fellows Seminar on Mexico was conducted by the MASF in June of 1999. The seminar provided a broad, diverse and insightful vision of the economic, political, educational, social and cultural aspects of today’s Mexico. This perspective gave professors, coordinators and directors of Alianza an opportunity to upgrade their professional and leadership skills in the formation of bilingual teachers who work with Mexican immigrant children and with children of Mexican descent.

Participants of the seminar included IDRA staff, Alianza coordinators, university faculty and two U.S. Department of Education program officers. Participants reported that the dynamic exchange enhanced the sensitivity, the understanding, and the compassion of those involved in preparing teachers who work with children of Hispanic or Mexican background in the United States (Cortez, 2000a).

Project Alianza Universities

With support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Intercultural Development Research Association and the Mexican and American Solidarity Foundation are working with universities to develop teacher preparation and leadership development programs to increase the number of teachers prepared to teach English in bilingual and multicultural environments.
Participating U.S. Universities
Arizona State University
California State University – Bakersfield
California State University – Long Beach
Southwest Texas State University
Texas A&M International University
Texas Woman’s University
University of Texas at El Paso
University of Texas – Pan American
University of Texas at San Antonio.
Participating Mexican Universities
Benemérita Escuela Normal de Coahuila
Escuela Normal Estatal de Ensenada
Escuela Normal del Estado “Profesor Jesús Manuel Bustamante Mungarro”
Escuela Normal Federal “Miguel Hidalgo”
Escuela Normal Federalizada de Tamaulipas
Escuela Normal “Ing. Miguel F. Martínez” Centenaria y Benemérita
Escuela Normal Oficial de Guanajuato
Escuela Normal “Profesor Serafín Peña”
For more information, contact Linda Cantú at IDRA (210-444-1710; feedback@idra.org)


Cantú, L. “Project Alianza: Tapping Community Resources for Bilingual Teachers,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, February 1999).

Cortez, J.D. “A Model Teacher Preparation and Leadership Development Initiative: First Year Findings,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, August 1999).

Cortez, J.D. “Project Alianza – Second Year Milestone,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, June-July 2000).

Cortez, J.D. Project Alianza Milestones to Date, May 1998 – September 2000 (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 2000).

Linda Cantú, M.A., is a education associate in the IDRA Division of Professional Development. Comments and questions may be directed to her via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©2002, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the February 2002 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.]