by Linda Cantu, M.A. • IDRA Newsletter • February 1999

Dr. Linda CantuProject Alianza is an initiative funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to reconnect 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. Our goal is to develop a comprehensive, binational and interdisciplinary program for teacher preparation and development.

Presently, Project Alianza is a collaboration of the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA), Mexican and American Solidarity Foundation, and five universities. The Universidad Autonoma de México is also participating.

The project concentrates on responding efficiently to serve an increasing Hispanic student population in the U.S. Southwest and Midwest. It focuses on kindergarten through sixth grade teachers – grade levels where bilingual education is mostly offered and where there is a shortage of well-prepared teachers. It also provides an entry point for catalyzing the broader national educational system to adjust systemically to changing student demographics.

In five years, Project Alianza will enable 200 teachers to teach and become leaders in educational issues in bilingual, binational, and bicultural settings (English-Spanish, United States-Mexico). This will be accomplished by expanding the elementary education curricula at five universities to include courses of study and practical experiences that will enhance the abilities of teachers, parents, administrators, school board members and community leaders to collaborate effectively.

The model program to be developed and piloted will enable universities to tap into three groups of individuals who possess the basic requirements of a prospective bilingual education teacher. These are:

  • bilingual teacher aides,
  • students in traditional bilingual teacher-preparation programs, and
  • teachers trained in Mexico to teach in their elementary grades (normalistas) and who are legal US residents.

These individuals will achieve certification for bilingual education. They will also develop leadership skills for serving the Hispanic student population. The program will enhance the capacity of Hispanic and non-Hispanic university students and educators to speak Spanish and work in cross-cultural environments – abilities essential to success in the 21st century.

Furthermore, by acting in a systemic and holistic way, all aspects of the educational system in the geographic areas served by the five universities will be impacted. For example, collaborating universities from the United States and Mexico will develop new and innovative curricula. Participating school districts will create opportunities for novel teacher-preparation laboratories and practice. Supporting research and policy institutions will undertake relevant and timely research. Working together under the leadership of a research institution, information gained will be synthesized and disseminated as the program is carried out across the nation. Thus, other educational systems facing similar circumstances will benefit from the project.

Program for “Normalistas”

The five collaborating universities selected to participate in Project Alianza offer studies that lead to bilingual education certification. Four of the universities (California State University at Long Beach, The University of Texas-Pan American, The University of Texas at San Antonio and Southwest Texas State University) have made a commitment to increase the number of bilingual education students by 5 percent each year. They will make accessible or establish an intensive English language class for normalistas and an intensive Spanish language enrichment program for other project participants.


The universities are in the process of recruiting and enrolling their first cohort of students. Each university will recruit normalistas and paraprofessionals working in bilingual settings as part of their first year’s cohort. During the first year, each university will accept 10 normalistas into the program.

The four universities have used a variety of methods to recruit students. They have distributed information about the program through fliers and applications to school districts, colleges, universities and professional educational organizations and met with community groups and educational institutions (public schools, colleges and universities). They have released media advisories to their local newspapers and university newsletters.

The campaign to recruit normalistas and paraprofessionals to the project has been very successful. Initially, university personnel felt they might have difficulty recruiting students. They now find they have an overwhelming response of qualified candidates to the project.

The normalistas recruited into the project are individuals credentialed to teach in Mexico. They are residing legally in the United States but have been employed in areas other than teaching. They have been working in restaurants, as laborers and in various other jobs. Some have been able to use their skills as paraprofessionals in school districts. The four universities have recruited more than 100 normalistas and paraprofessionals.

Many of these are normalistas superiors or have licenciaturas in their countries, which are equivalent to a bachelor’s degree. The credentialing offices and registrars of three of the participating universities recognize them as such. These students can enter the universities’ post baccalaureate program.

One university representative described the normalistas as “extremely strong applicants” and noted that many hold degree specialties in math, science, special education, speech pathology and foreign languages. The credentialing of normalistas and licenciados with bachelor equivalents is an additional benefit to the students and to the overall goals of the program.

Needs and Expectations

The recruitment of normalistas who have participated in schools and universities in Mexico for teacher preparation and who have teaching experience has been very successful. For normalistas entering the Project Alianza teacher preparation program, the universities have developed an intensive English program that will help the normalista students to improve their English skills and prepare for exit exams.

Conversely, bilingual teacher aides and students in traditional bilingual teacher preparation programs selected for the project will receive intensive Spanish preparation classes. The language instruction in English or Spanish will be designed specifically for these students. The design for the intensive language programs will include mini-seminars, intensive language classes, modules in the content areas of teaching in both English and Spanish, and cultural awareness classes.

As a result of this approach of identifying students and placing them in intensive language programs, Project Alianza will develop a group of highly motivated, highly qualified bilingual teachers knowledgeable in the language and the culture of the children they are working with and the subject content they are teaching.


Research and policy institutions such as IDRA, Mexican and American Solidarity Foundation, and Arizona State University will conduct research that can be disseminated to other institutions across the United States. Several research projects are being undertaken as part of this initiative. Specifically, Arizona State University will research three topics:

  • A study of Spanish language competencies needed by teachers in Spanish-English programs of bilingual education.
  • A description of the preparation program in the Mexican normalista training school system since the reform of the escuelas normales in recent years, and how the program compares to a cross-section of state requirements for bilingual education teachers in the United States.
  • A review of the literature and certification requirements to ascertain what bilingual education teachers should know and be able to do (the skills and competencies deemed necessary to be an effective bilingual education teacher).

The Mexican and American Solidarity Foundation in collaboration with Arizona State University will research the different periods of evolution of the escuelas normales.

As Project Alianza progresses, California State University at Long Beach, The University of Texas-Pan American, The University of Texas at San Antonio and Southwest Texas State University will also research topics dealing with the integration of normalistas into the bilingual education program, as well as focusing on the development of new and innovative curricula.

For more information contact the project administrators at IDRA: Dr. Abelardo Villarreal and Linda Cantu or visit the IDRA web site

Linda Cantu, M.A., is an education associate in the IDRA Division of Professional Development. Comments and questions may be directed to her via e-mail at

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation was established in 1930 to “help people help themselves through the practical application of knowledge and resources to improve their quality of life and that of future generations.” Its programming activities focus on the common visions of a world in which each person has a sense of worth; accepts responsibility for self, family, community, and societal well-being; and has the capacity to be productive, and to help create nurturing families, responsive institutions, and healthy communities. Grants are concentrated in the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean, and southern Africa.

Entities Participating in Project Alianza

Policy and Research Institutions

  • Intercultural Development Research Association
  • Mexican and American Solidarity Foundation (Fundación Solidaridad México Americana)
  • Arizona State University

IDRA will provide the leadership for developing, implementing, monitoring, and evaluating the project. The Universidad Autonoma de México will participate in this effort as well.

Public Schools

Participating schools will be hose in districts that serve predominantly students of Mexican or Hispanic descent. Students may be recent immigrants or second-generation (or more) residents whose first language is Spanish.


The following participating universities offer studies leading to bilingual education certification:

  • California State University at Long Beach
  • University of Texas – Pan American
  • University of Texas at San Antonio
  • Southwest Texas State University

For more information, contact Linda Cantu, M.A., at IDRA (210/444-1710; e-mail:

[©1999, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the February 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.]