SANTA FE, NM (AP) — Dozens of teachers at Santa Fe’s public schools plan to participate in a new initiative aimed at increasing the number of educators trained to teach English as a second language or bilingual classes to direct.
The district last month provided $90,000 in federal pandemic assistance for the three-year pilot program that provides tuition and fee reimbursements for certified teachers taking postgraduate courses to receive certification to teach English as a second language.
Lisa Vigil, the district’s language and culture director, told the Santa Fe New Mexican that about a dozen teachers have already enrolled for the college classes this school year, and at least 40 have expressed interest.
Teachers in the new program can take classes at Northern New Mexico College in Española, Santa Fe Community College or New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas.
“I was surprised,” Vigil said of those who have expressed interest in the program. “I didn’t think that many teachers would be so interested.”
The data shows that 30% of Santa Fe Public Schools’ K-12 students are English learners, who Vigil said likely struggled to improve their English skills during distance learning over the past year.
“I can’t even put into words how much it has affected our English learners,” she said. “If you’re in a remote environment, you’ve eliminated a lot of that observing opportunity because you don’t want to show your face. They don’t want to interrupt the class to ask questions.”
Face masks added to Vigil obscure the visual cues that help language learners speak fluently.
According to government regulations, students learning English must receive 45 minutes of language tuition each day from a qualified teacher. That goal has been more difficult to achieve in secondary schools in recent years, especially as teaching jobs remain high across New Mexico, Vigil said.
According to a study by New Mexico State University, only 49 college students nationwide completed a bilingual instruction support program or teaching English as a second language at a state college or university in the 2020-21 school year, while 9% of the 1,048 teachers in 2021 reported vacancies – more than 90 vacancies – had “bilingual” in the job title.
At Santa Fe Public Schools, the graduation rate for students identified as English learners was 82.5%, below the district’s overall graduation rate of 86.3% for 2019-20. Nationwide, 75.8% of English learners, who accounted for nearly a third of the state’s high school seniors in 2020, made it to the finish line.
“We see bottlenecks in both (bilingual and English as a second language teachers) and rely heavily on international exchange teachers or visiting teachers to provide bilingual instruction,” Vigil said.
Under the new program, reimbursement for tuition is for 14 credit hours and includes the cost of textbooks and registration fees.
Vigil said the district had a similar reimbursement program a few years ago.
“It’s very difficult to find teachers with a specific endorsement, so we’re trying to build capacity within our current teaching population,” said Vigil. “We’re not really able to look outside of our current teacher population right now.”