Heiskell Award 2007 for VSU Study Abroad Program
run by the Department of Modern and Classical Languages
Category of Nomination: Study Abroad
ESOL and Spanish Language Training in Guadalajara, Mexico: Improving Education for Migrant Children in South Georgia
Valdosta State University (VSU), the second largest university in Georgia south of the Atlanta area, is located eighteen miles north of the Florida state line in Valdosta, a city that has recently achieved metropolitan status by surpassing 50,000 inhabitants. The university has approximately 10,500 students from 44 states and many other countries. International students represent less than 2% of the student population, while African Americans comprise approximately 21%. VSU has a mission to serve an expansive rural area of South Georgia including 41 counties, stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Alabama state line, and this region accounts for 55% of VSU’s total enrollment. Most of the rural communities in South Georgia are dependent upon agriculture with little industry and economic diversity. Between 21 to 41 percent of school age children in these counties live in poverty.
Size and Characteristics of Georgia’s Hispanic Population
Due to its agricultural base, the region is also experiencing a rapid rise in its Hispanic population, with some rural elementary schools reporting that Hispanic children now comprise as much as 34% of their early grades students. Georgia’s Hispanic population grew from 101,379 in 1990 to 598,322 in 2004, an increase of 590% (U.S. Census of Population and Housing 1990 and 2004). The Hispanic population grew faster in Georgia than any other state in the nation 2000-2002 at 17% (U.S. Census Bureau 2003). Recent estimates indicate that there are more than 4500 Hispanics within VSU’s service area, most of Mexican origin.
Adapting to Changing Needs: The History of the Study Abroad in Guadalajara
The Department of Modern and Classical Languages (MCL) began the Study Abroad Program in Guadalajara fifteen years ago with the stated aims of improving the language skills of majors and minors in Spanish and increasing their cultural competency through exposure to Hispanic culture. MCL recognized that the majority of South Georgia’s students had not had much opportunity for travel outside the region and that exposure to another North American culture could help to open both minds and hearts.
From its beginning, Valdosta State University’s summer study abroad program has been a collaborative with the University of Guadalajara, Guadalajara Mexico. Students from VSU have taken classes at the University of Guadalajara’s Spanish Language School Centro de Estudios para Extranjeros (CEPE). A wide range of courses are offered - from ten levels of intensive grammar to courses in Spanish composition and conversation, and Latin American literature, theatre, cinema, history and culture. All Spanish courses are taught exclusively in the target language by Mexican professors. Students are placed in home stays with Mexican families who include them in their daily activities. Also, students have the opportunity to participate in CEPE’s Amistad or Friendship Program in which they are assigned to a conversation partner from the University of Guadalajara. CEPE’s volunteer program also provides opportunities for students to volunteer in orphanages and hospitals.
New Opportunities Give Rise to Innovations
In 2002-2003 MCL began to respond to the changes in its mission occasioned by the steadily increasing influx of migrants into the region. Needs studies and deliberations with community partners such as the Southern Pine Migrant Agency revealed that linguistic and cultural exposure to Hispanic culture through study abroad should no longer be limited to select Spanish majors and minors but extended to students in other disciplines whose professional careers and personal lives would involve positive interaction with the newly-increasing Hispanic population. MCL therefore resolved to actively recruit students from such disciplines as Sociology, Social Work, Criminal Justice, Nursing and Education to complete at least their basic foreign language requirement at Guadalajara in order to improve their cultural understanding and communicative abilities.
In 2004, as a result of these efforts to expand participation, 16 students went to Guadalajara. Of these 16 students, two were from other institutions in Georgia and 14 were from VSU. Only one of the students was a VSU Spanish major and the remaining 13 VSU students were simply completing language requirements. MCL achieved a fortuitous but unexpected outcome when six of these students returned to become Spanish majors and three opted for Spanish minors. Eighty-one percent (13) of the students reported that this was their first trip abroad. Thirty-one percent (five) of the participants were African-Americans.
Responding to Partners in Education: The ESOL Innovation
The decision to expand the Guadalajara program to include the ESOL Endorsement as an add-on component of teacher certification came as MCL’s response to the growing need to improve the educational environment of this region for English Language Learners (ELLs). MCL offers a degree in Foreign Language Education in collaboration with the College of Education at VSU and maintains active collaborative contacts (Academic Alliance) with regional elementary, middle and secondary schools for the placement of student teacher candidates. Through this network, MCL first became aware of the need for ESOL endorsed teachers at all levels. Dr. Maureen Yearta, Assistant Superintendent for Instruction in the rural Colquitt County school system, also contacted MCL directly to establish course sequences in both Valdosta and Guadalajara through which her teachers could complete the ESOL Endorsement in order to become more effective teachers in the multicultural classroom and to satisfy the requirements of No Child Left Behind.
Multiple benefits arise from offering the ESOL Endorsement in Guadalajara. In response to the immediate need for teachers with an ESOL Endorsement, teachers complete a large portion of the coursework in an intensive five-week session. By living in home stays, prospective and practicing teachers develop an understanding of what ELLs experience when they must adapt to a new social situation in which they do not have control of the language. Teachers complete unique field experiences in Mexican schools teaching English as a second language. ESOL Endorsement classes are scheduled so that teachers also have the option of taking Spanish classes. Although speaking foreign languages is definitely not required as part of an ESOL Endorsement, local ESOL teachers prefer to take some Spanish in order to communicate more effectively with students and parents. Partial scholarships are available for ESOL candidates from several sources including their school boards, the Georgia Board of Regents, and MCL.
In order to receive the ESOL Endorsement, teachers must complete courses in Applied Linguistics, Sociolinguistics, and Methods and Materials in Teaching ESOL and complete over 60 hours of field work. In 2005, 43 students went to Guadalajara. Thirty-five of the 43 students were from Valdosta State University. For 42% of these students, this was their first trip out of the United States. Four (8.5 %) of these students had minority backgrounds. Two of the three courses required for the ESOL endorsement were offered at Guadalajara. Nine students enrolled in the ESOL program. Of these nine, two were practicing teachers and one was a county ESOL coordinator who already held the endorsement and went to develop Spanish Language Skills. One of the practicing teachers held a job at South Georgia Middle School and began to use her endorsement the following school year to work directly assessing the language proficiency of English Language Learners. The remaining five students were teacher candidates in Math Education, Spanish Education and Early Childhood Education.
In 2006, all three courses in the ESOL Endorsement were offered over five weeks. VSU ESOL instructors distributed course materials to students in May so that they could complete the reading requirements and related assignments before leaving the country in order to focus on field experiences while they were there. Of the 43 students on the study abroad, ten took the ESOL courses. Among these ten, two (20%) were African Americans and seven (70%) were on their first trip abroad.
Collaboratives with Institutions in Guadalajara
As part of FLED 4600/6800 Methods and Materials for Teaching ESOL, candidates are required to complete 20 hours of field work. In 2005, this field work was completed at a local orphanage where students taught English lessons to the children. For 2006, it was decided that teacher candidates also needed to observe actual ESOL instruction. At our request, Ismael Crotte, the director of CEPE, initiated a collaborative with CEPE’s partner institution PROULEX, an intensive English school, in which our teacher candidates would observe classes there and teach mini lessons. For 2007, MCL is collaborating with the Department of Languages at the University of Guadalajara to develop field experiences that will allow ESOL candidates to work more closely with under-privileged children from rural communities, since these children are more representative of the populations that teachers serve here in South Georgia.
In addition to the field work for these classes, students also have practicum experiences for LING 4160 and LING 4000 classes. For example, students are required to spend 20 hours with an English language learner. ESOL students reflect on cultural similarities and differences and complete a linguistic analysis of the learner’s English language proficiency at the end of the 20 hours. Each student then shares their project with the class and profiles of language proficiency are developed. In this way, future ESOL teachers gain insight into the developmental stages of English language learners and associate this with models of language proficiency that they can later apply in their classrooms. As one ESOL candidate wrote on the program evaluation:
My experience at PROULEX was wonderful. I learned so much about myself and how I would run my own classroom. . . I got the opportunity to teach English in a Spanish-speaking country at 18, and I am truly excited and blessed to have been given the opportunity to teach. I was scared but now I am ready for my own class. . . It was fun to witness cultural differences inside the classrooms.