The University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Education’s English as a Second Language (ESL) program is enjoying more than $10 million in federal funding this year.

UAB’s ESL program captured two new five-year grant awards this fall from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of English Language Acquisition. They include a $2.6 million grant for a UAB initiative called Consortium for Responsive Education and Successful Teaching (CREST) of English Learners and another $2.6 million grant for Improving Preschoolers’ Acquisition of Language through Coaching Teachers and Professional Development (IMPACT-PD).

UAB’s ESL Program, housed in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, is currently administering three other federally funded ESL projects with grants totaling close to $5 million. All five grants have allowed UAB to expand its English Learners efforts, says UAB Associate Professor Susan Spezzini, Ph.D., the program coordinator for UAB’s Master’s Program for Teaching ESL. She credits the strength of UAB’s ESL program for its grant success. Photo of ESL Participants

“The grants are very competitive,” says Spezzini. “So, you have to have a good program in place, one that has a good track record and shows that it can continue to be a strong program.”

In partnership with Gadsden City and Attalla City schools and the Etowah County Board of Education, Project CREST will prepare pre- and in-service early learning and K-12 teachers to successfully instruct English learners by providing tuition support for graduate courses. Moreover, Project CREST will encourage outreach activities to help parents, families, and community members support the educational needs of English learners and provide support to faculty members who include ESL components within their teacher preparation courses. Spezzini is the PI for CREST.

The other new project, IMPACT-PD, will support a partnership between the UAB ESL program and the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education to offer online professional development ESL courses for teachers; create an in-field Summer EL Professional Development Institute; organize outreach activities that promote parent, family, and community engagement; and provide ESL coursework for teachers pursuing ESL degrees.

“Pre-K students don’t receive the support for English language development as they do in K-12 schools,” says UAB Assistant Professor Kelly Hill, Ph.D., the grant’s PI and project director. “There are no ESL teachers in the preschools who can provide individualized instruction in English. With this grant, we hope to empower the pre-K teachers with strategies they can use to help their young learners develop both English and their native language in a supportive, developmentally appropriate, and culturally responsive ways.”

Another grant component is the pre-service teacher training, says Hill. Each year, a select group of eight undergraduate students in UAB’s Early Childhood and Elementary Education program will also receive the training along with the pre-K teachers.

“This will enable them to go into their first classroom far more prepared to meet the needs of English learners,” Hill says.

The UAB ESL program’s other federally supported projects include Etowah English learners Developing Growing and Excelling (EDGE), Southeast English learners Charting new Horizons and Opportunities (ECHO), and Project Sheltered instruction for Promoting EL’s Academic Knowledge (SPEAK). Each of these five-year programs has just over $1.6 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Education.

Etowah Edge provides tuition support for training in an existing instructional strategy known as Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP) for the teaching of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). This approach gives teachers in the Etowah County school system the instructional training they need to help their students gain English proficiency, meet content standards, and graduate. So far, more than 100 pre- and in-service teachers have completed this training and earned a master's degree in ESL.

The Southeast ECHO project is a partnership between UAB and the Enterprise City Schools system. Through ECHO, teachers can obtain tuition stipends for courses on how to teach math and science to PK-12 English language learners. Close to 80 pre- and in-service teachers have completed the ECHO professional development program and earned a master's degree in ESL.

Project SPEAK is a five-year partnership with the Jefferson County Board of Education. Project SPEAK faculty have created a model for SIOP to help teachers address specific academic needs of English language learners. UAB faculty members say SPEAK works through professional learning communities in the feeder schools. Since 2012, Project SPEAK has supported more than 100 pre- and in-service teachers in Jefferson County with earning a master's degree in ESL.