CORVALLIS - It's a difficult task - trying to teach children who do not have a grasp of the English language. But with the help of Oregon State University's English Language Institute, elementary and middle school teachers in Oregon have a better understanding of how to approach the task.

Two federal grants are making this possible. The U.S. Department of Education Office of Bilingual Education and Minority Languages Affairs has provided a three-year, $240,000 grant to provide professional development opportunities designed to assist classroom teachers, bilingual assistants, and English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) resource specialists at the elementary and middle school levels. The focus of the project is to create a community of ongoing support for educators through workshops and to help ESOL assistants with their coursework to become full-fledged teachers.

"Moving ESOL assistants into teaching positions helps to provide students with positive role-models," said Rachel Powell, an ELI instructor and director of the OBEMLA grant.

The Eisenhower Grant, funded through the State of Oregon, provides $65,900 a year to help bring together classroom teachers and ESOL/bilingual professionals in the elementary and middle school levels to develop tools for effective instruction of English language learners. The focus is on math and science instruction in particular. The workshops serve teachers from the Corvallis, Lebanon, Lincoln County, Albany, and Springfield school districts.

The ELI has received the Eisenhower Grant the past three years.

"It's amazing what happens at these workshops," said Maria Dantas-Whitney, ELI instructor and director of Eisenhower-ELI activities. "Teachers talk with each other and discover that they are facing the same problems and concerns."

Marianne Clausing-Lee, ESL coordinator for the Corvallis School District, said OSU is providing staff development for teachers, teaching assistants and other staff that work with students that would be unavailable otherwise.

"We don't have the money in our district to have this level of staff development," Clausing-Lee said. "We can't bring this caliber of presenters to the district because of the cost. This type of training really helps teachers and students."

Dantas-Whitney said workshops are held in the school districts at least twice a year and teachers from the five participating districts are invited to campus three times a year for larger workshops.

Attendance at the workshops often tops 90 teachers. In addition, education students from OSU and the University of Oregon participate in the workshops.

Five teachers from each district also conduct classroom-based research to better understand English language learners and share their findings.

"They study how they are impacting students and making a difference in the classroom," Dantas-Whitney said.

Clausing-Lee said the teaching strategies and information presented at the workshops helps more than just ESL students.

"The information presented in these workshops is very relevant and down to earth," Clausing-Lee said. "It helps all of our students."

Deborah Healey, director of the ELI, said the programs are successful because the process is collaborative.

"It's not a top-down process," she said. "We're working together with teachers and they're defining the issues and identifying solutions. We're helping to facilitate the conversations and offer resources."

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Deborah Healey, 541-737-6985