BOZEMAN — The Center for Bilingual and Multicultural Education (CBME) at Montana State University has received a five-year, $2.7 million grant for MontTELLS, a project that is designed to help raise the academic achievement of students in Montana who are identified as Limited English Proficient, or LEP. MontTELLS stands for Montana Teachers of English Language Learners.
The grant, from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA), National Professional Development Program, will enable the CBME to recruit and educate 60 to 90 middle school and high school teachers from across the state with significant proportions of American Indians and others identified as LEP, according to Jioanna Carjuzaa, executive director of the CBME and an associate professor of education in the MSU College of Education, Health and Human Development. Carjuzaa is the principal investigator for the grant, and William G. Ruff, associate dean for research development in the College of Education, Health and Human Development, and David Henderson, assistant professor of education, are serving as co-principal investigators.
The teachers who participate in MontTELLS will receive professional development, mentoring and community engagement support, Carjuzaa said. Approximately half of the teachers will have the opportunity to participate in an intensive five-week online course addressing language acquisition theories and instructional strategies for teaching LEP students. The course will be followed by mentoring.
The other half of the teachers who participate in MontTELLS will receive 12 credits of graduate study instruction and coursework leading to a Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Education certificate, Carjuzaa said. The work will be completed over the course of two summers, with mentoring provided in between during the academic year.
Carjuzaa noted that over the course of the five years of the grant, the CBME will recruit participants from secondary school districts to participate in one of three project cohorts, and each cohort will consist of 30-40 participants. Teachers in participating schools will be randomly assigned to one of the two programs, and all participants in that school will receive the program randomly selected for that school, she added.
The MontTELLS project is important, Carjuzaa said, because the graduation rate for American Indian students in Montana is still far below the graduation rate of non-American Indian students and increasing the academic literacy skills of LEPs will help address this issue.
According to the American Indian Student Achievement Data Report for fall 2016 released by the Montana Office of Public Instruction, during the 2015–2016 school year there were 3,189 LEP students enrolled in Montana, and 73.1 percent of all LEP students were identified as American Indian.
“It is well known in the education community, both nationally and in Montana, the lowest scoring demographic of students are the LEP students,” the report noted. “The longer the student is an LEP student the more effect it has on that student later on.”
The report also found that LEP students have the lowest graduation rate of any student group – 62.2 percent for 2015–2016. And, although the American Indian graduation rate increased 1.6 percentage points in 2015 compared to 2014, the American Indian graduation rate is still 22.1 percentage points lower than the white student graduation rate, according to the report.
“We can predict that by third grade, if students are not reading at their grade level, they will have a very difficult time doing well academically and graduating,” Carjuzaa said. “That’s why this project is so important.”
Still, Carjuzaa emphasizes that non-English heritage languages are incredibly valuable, and MontTELLS is designed to work in tandem with language revitalization efforts and maintenance of Indigenous languages.
“We want students to have a strong foundation in English, and the CBME is also deeply committed to embracing and supporting students’ self-identity through their heritage languages,” Carjuzaa said.
The MSU CBME supports the MSU community and tribal nations across Montana by generating multiple funding streams focusing on the following program areas: best practices in the revitalization and maintenance of Indigenous languages; facilitation of culturally responsive pedagogy in K-12 schools, including the integration of Indian Education for All across the curriculum in all content areas and at all levels; and projects designed to promote social justice by increasing cultural sensitivity. The CBME is housed in the MSU Department of Education.
The MontTELLS grant is just one of several significant grants the CBME has received recently. In the last eight months alone, the CBME also received a $1.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education for the Indian Leadership Education and Development Project, or I LEAD, as well as a prestigious Spencer Foundation grant for a working conference designed to help Class 7 teachers develop or expand their immersion language programs.
Contact: Jioanna Carjuzaa, (406) 994-4941 or firstname.lastname@example.org