Portland State University Professor Esperanza De La Vega and Associate Dean Liza Finkel accepted the AACTE-Southern Poverty Law Center Award for Exemplary Culturally Responsive Teacher Preparation at the annual AACTE conference recently held in Chicago. The award recognizes the GSE’s Bilingual Teacher Pathway (BTP) program which prepares bilingual classroom instructional assistants to become fully-licensed classroom teachers. Professor De La Vega coordinates the program, which is offered by the GSE in partnership with 19 school districts throughout Oregon.
The BTP program was born out of a desperate need to diversify the teaching corps. It was the vision of several people—Bob Everhart (emeriti faculty and former GSE dean), Cheryl Livneh, Ann Fullerton, Dannelle Stevens, Joan Strouse (emerita faculty), and our community college and school district partners, who developed a program that would support bilingual-bicultural teaching assistants in getting their teaching license. The goal was to create a program that developed a teaching force that more closely reflected the growing diversity of Oregon’s PK-12 students. They believed that the easiest way to diversify the teaching corps in the schools was to start with existing personnel. Teaching assistants were already there, had made the decision to work in schools, and had experience.
Building the program was complex because so many things had to change—community college curriculum, PSU curriculum; and everyone had to cooperate in these institutional changes. Clackamas Community College (CCC) was the only community college at that time with a training program for teaching assistants in the schools. During the development of BTP, CCC not only shared what they knew, but also assisted other community colleges in creating their own training programs.
“We did not have a grant when we were seeking ways to help bilingual-bicultural teaching assistants get their licenses,” says Professor Stevens, GSE’s school-university partnership coordinator at that time. “But we had the good will and vision of so many people.”
A grant opportunity came in 1998 and became the catalyst for launching the BTP program. With the help of Ann Fullerton and others who wrote the grant, the plan began to move forward. In August 1998, PSU was awarded a 5-year, $1.5 million dollar grant from the US Department of Education. The new GSE dean, Phyllis Edmundson, appointed Dannelle Stevens the first BTP director, drawing on her experience as the school-university partnership coordinator and her deep commitment to this work.
In 2001, the responsibility for directing the BTP program shifted to Professor Julie Esparza-Brown, who successfully led the program through its initial and subsequent grant funding. It was through her leadership that PSU instituted the program after the grant funding ended.
There was no data at the time on how many bilingual-bicultural teaching assistants were in the schools. For the grant, a survey was conducted that identified 35 individuals across 10 local districts. Once the grant was in place, many more eligible teaching assistants came forward. The initial group included 140 participants who followed one of three pathways to a teaching license and an ESL endorsement. The pathways started at the community college, undergraduate PSU, or graduate PSU level. BTP participants were from over 15 countries. To date, 257 bilingual individuals have completed the program and have become licensed teachers. Several are now in key administrative positions in their districts. Forty-five students are currently working with Lynda Pullen and Program Coordinator Esperanza De La Vega to complete their teaching license and ESL endorsement.
PSU’s BTP partners have included: Beaverton School District, Newberg School District, Canby School District, North Clackamas School District, Centennial School District, Oregon City School District, David Douglas School District, Portland Public Schools, Estacada School District, Reynolds School District, Forest Grove School District, Salem-Keizer School District, Gresham-Barlow School District, Sherwood School District, Hillsboro School District, Tigard-Tualatin School District, McMinnville School District, Woodburn School District, and Molalla School District.