FSU receives $1.5 million grant to train teachers in ESL

Fifty-two graduate students began training in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) this semester as part of a program funded by a grant from the United States Department of Education (DOE).

Framingham State received the first portion of the $1.5 million grant at the start of the semester. The University will the receive the full amount over the course of five years. 

The 52 candidates are divided into two cohorts of 26 students each. They were recruited from public school faculties in Framingham, Milford and Waltham. The candidates will participate in a fully funded, four-year program to complete a master’s of education with a concentration in TESL.

Mary-Ann Stadtler-Chester, the chair of FSU’s world languages department, teaches  graduate-level TESL courses in addition to French and Mandarin Chinese classes.

She wrote and submitted the funding request for the grant to the DOE. She said grants that have a “catchy title” are more likely to stand out from other applications and named it PROPELL – which stands for Promoting Reading and Oral Proficiency in English Language Learners.

She said FSU competed against other universities for the grant, including Harvard University, Fitchburg State University and the University of Massachusetts/Amherst.

“In fact, there were only two universities in Massachusetts that got the grant – one was us and the other was Lesley,” Stadtler-Chester said. “So, we’re really happy.”

She added she chose the Framingham, Milford and Waltham public school districts not only because of the high number of English Language Learners (ELLs), but also because of FSU’s close proximity and “easy commuting distance” to each.

Stadtler-Chester works closely with the ESL directors of each district, who act as the “go-betweens” for FSU and their districts. She coordinated with them in the fall 2017 semester to encourage the prospective graduate students to apply.

“They had good qualifications and had already been screened by the school district,” Stadtler-Chester said of those she admitted into the program.

According to Stadtler-Chester, all degree candidates are K-12 teachers, who teach a range of subjects.

“Some of them are regular classroom teachers. There are a couple reading specialists. There are a few that are ESL teachers already. There’s a phys. ed. teacher. There are a few teachers that are in family and consumer sciences. There’s someone who’s a technical support person for the school. It’s a variety – the majority of them are classroom teachers.”

Stadtler-Chester added she tried to evenly pick the degree candidates from all levels of public school education – elementary, middle and high schools.

Catherine Carney, the administrator of English Language Learning for Waltham Public Schools, said they recruited teachers for the program with the intention of encompassing many different professional and demographic backgrounds.

“We worked with school principals to be far-reaching in our recruitment efforts and get the most diverse group of teachers,” Carney said.

Carney said all the teachers from Waltham Public Schools completing the program are either classroom teachers or paraprofessional educators.

Stadtler-Chester said not only is the cost of tuition for the graduate students fully covered by the grant, but students are also given a stipend for educational materials and professional development workshops for their colleagues and the parents of ELLs.

“It’s often a problem that the parents don’t speak English, so they can’t help the kids at home with the homework. They don’t feel comfortable with participating in the school activities, like PTO and those sorts of things, because of the language barrier,” Stadtler-Chester said.

The degree program is designed to take approximately three-and-a-half to four years to complete, as it is on a part-time basis. The fifth year of funding from the grant will support professional development workshops or teaching practicums for the participants who have not yet received their teaching licenses, according to Stadtler-Chester.

The teaching practicum includes supervised student-teaching in classrooms, she said.

“Teachers, once they get their preliminary license, have five years to get their master’s degree. Some of them just want to get their master’s degree, because they have to get a master’s,” Stadtler-Chester said. “Others want to get their master’s degree and also get certified to teach.”

According to Stadtler-Chester, the graduate students are required to complete 10 courses in order to receive their degree. Three are education core courses required for every master’s of education student regardless of concentration. The core courses include Language Development and Communication.

The other seven are courses needed to satisfy the TESL concentration. According to the FSU website, these include classes focused on aspects of English linguistics – such as morphology and syntax – while others focus on the teaching of second language acquisition skills.

Stadtler-Chester invited the two cohorts to come an orientation on Jan. 11. Fifty of the 52 degree candidates attended. She thought the event was “really successful.

“Usually, you don’t get almost 100 percent,” Stadtler-Chester said. “It was really well attended.”

She added, “They’re a really, really good group. They’re really enthusiastic – everybody had questions, talking to each other and sharing ideas. It was really dynamic.”

Stadtler-Chestersaid  she believes the program will create a “ripple effect” in Framingham and surrounding communities.