NACOGDOCHES, Texas — Stephen F. Austin State University’s James I. Perkins College of Education was recently awarded a five-year $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to enhance bilingual and multilingual education for school districts in Nacogdoches and Angelina counties.

Set to be administered by the college’s Department of Education Studies, the grant will fund a series of professional development sessions to prepare as many as 332 educators to teach and support English language learners. Those educators include SFA faculty and education students, as well as East Texas pre-K through 12th grade teachers.

The grant, titled “Reaching All Communities to Establish Success in Language Learning,” is the third of its kind for the college, which was awarded $1.4 million in 2007 and $1.9 million in 2011. The application for the current grant — one of 44 awarded nationally — was authored by Drs. Heather Olson Beal, professor; Lauren Burrow and Chrissy Cross, associate professors; and Yuan He, assistant professor, all of whom are faculty members in SFA’s Department of Education Studies. Dr. Marisol Diaz, who is a faculty member at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, also served as an author and co-principal investigator on the project.

“In five years, we are hoping to see an improvement in academic achievement from English language learners,” Cross said. “We are also hoping to build a community so that when people move here, those who have English language learners with them will be able to fit right in and understand what’s available to help them succeed. This will result in higher graduation rates, better jobs and a boost for the economy.”

The grant addresses an important need in Nacogdoches and Angelina counties. According to Cross, 20% of students in the Nacogdoches Independent School District are English language learners. In the Lufkin Independent School district, that figure is 26%.

The grant will fund four professional development sessions per year through 2026. The sessions will include a modest stipend to increase participation among educators and parents and caregivers of English language learners.

“We want everyone who wants to take these professional development courses to be able to take them,” Cross said, citing the monetary incentive. 

The grant also includes resources for direct outreach to the parents and caregivers of children who would benefit most from English learning programs and instruction. Their participation, Cross said, is critical to the success of the grant cycle.

Referencing the two prior grants, Dr. Judy Abbott, dean of the Perkins College of Education, said she appreciates the ongoing commitment to the region’s English language learners. 

“This grant builds on earlier work within our college to enhance the skills of teachers and educational support services for those learning English,” she said. “I’m confident this team of education scholars will be successful in supporting partner school districts to provide more effective, equitable instruction to all English learners and multilingual learners.”