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K-State's distance ESL program getting national recognition

K-State's program for helping educators learn how to teach students who do not speak English as their first language has been so successful that other states are adopting the model

By Mark Berry



The growing population of elementary and secondary students who are not native English speakers in Kansas is forcing school districts to recruit or train educators who are capable of teaching those students, said Kevin Murry, co-director of the English as a Second Language/dual language program and an associate professor of foundations and adult education at K-State.

Since most teachers cannot leave the classroom to travel to a university, distance education has been the answer.

K-State's distance education program for English as a Second Language serves practicing teachers, administrators and other staff, allowing them to earn their ESL endorsement. The educators learn the skills they need to serve students who have issues of language, culture and academic performance, Murry said.

Murry said the K-State model has been adopted by Eastern New Mexico University and the University of Alabama at Birmingham, both of which are educating teachers in English as a Second Language in their respective states.

"Who would have thought that Kansas would be setting the stage for preparing teachers and communities for English as a Second Language education?" said Socorro Herrera, CO-director of the ESL/dual language program and associate professor of elementary education.

The program began in 1996 with 125 educators in seven school districts. It has risen to 44 school districts in Kansas and 15 in Iowa, with between 500 and 700 students per semester. More than 125 of the educators in the program are also working toward a master's degree from K-State.

Murry said the distance ESL endorsement program was among the nation's earliest English as a Second Language distance education programs, and the first to utilize on-site education and distance education with constant assistance from the university. The program also offers educators the nation's first portfolio-based practicum experience via distance education, Murry said.

The program uses a combination of on-site visits, videotapes and distance facilitation. K-State faculty keeps in contact with educators during the semester by e-mail, the World Wide Web, fax and telephone. Educators in each district form discussion groups to work on their studies and their site's specific dilemmas with ESL. Each educator also contributes to a course project designed to help his or her district improve its ESL program.

"The educators in each district take our curriculum and apply that to their dilemmas together. They often are able to learn as much from each other as they do from our course," Murry said.

Different districts have widely different problems in trying to educate students whose first language is not English, Murry said. Some districts have 17 languages represented in the classroom, while in other districts 85 percent of students speak Spanish as their first language. The ability of the distance ESL program to meet such varying needs across the state is one of its best advantages, Murry said.

"It's been so successful because it brings the education that teachers need to their doorstep," Murry said. "It focuses on taking their issues and their needs and building the curriculum around that."

Summer 2002