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Education professor awarded $2.4 million to introduce new bilingual program in schools

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A University of Louisiana at Lafayette professor has found a way to better help bilingual students, teachers and parents adjust with a new program that carries a multi-million-dollar weight.

Awarded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Language Acquisition, the five-year, $2.4 million grant will enable Dr. Michelle Haj-Broussard, an assistant professor in curriculum and instruction, to bring a Spanish-led, dual immersion program to Charles M. Burke Elementary in Duson.

“If you’re wanting to learn a new language or get better at a language, my suggestion is always immersion,” Haj-Broussard said, “and that’s what we are trying to do. We are trying to bring better opportunities for students to our schools.”

The intention of the two-way engagement is that with either language being spoken, students will be learning and growing at a steady pace in two languages, rather than growing in one and leaving the other to potentially falter or fall behind.

Dual language immersion classrooms are made up of both native and non-native English speakers with at least 30 percent of students speaking either language.

The state already has its own one-way language immersion program that either uses a bilingual teacher to instruct a class of native English speakers or a certified English as the Second Language teacher to guide non-native speakers, but it lacks the two-way immersion program.

“We are starting with Burke,” she said, “but part of the intention of this program is to invite teachers from all over the state to observe what we are doing, so they can become interested in it, as well.”

Other university faculty and community members are involved in the grant. English professor Dr. Mark Honegger, who leads the Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) graduate program, will contribute to the program by providing English as a Second Language courses; Dr. Jack Damico, the Doris B. Hawthorne Eminent Scholar Chair in communicative disorders, will consult on bilingual, diversity and pedagogical issues; Tia LeBrun, the World Language/Immersion Academic Specialist, and Janie Ellison, the director of English as a Second Language program, both with the Lafayette Parish School System, will work to select the sites and teachers involved in the program.

Dr. Maria Ruiz, assistant professor of Curriculum and Instruction, will create user-friendly videos in simple English and Spanish to help parents understand school culture; Dr. Natalie Keefer, also an assistant professor of Curriculum and Instruction, will create a training workshop that underlines the importance of collaboration between staff and parents; Dr. Karen Burstein, director of the Picard Center, will lead the program’s evaluation team.

(Photo credit: Jessica Manafi)