pictured during one of their workshops are members of the Project Raíces team

Project Raíces, a grant-funded program facilitated by Stephen F. Austin State University’s Department of Education Studies to enhance bilingual and multilingual education for school districts in East Texas, completed its first year of Language and Literacy Academias. Pictured during one of their workshops are members of the Project Raíces team, from left, Dr. Marisol Diaz, faculty member from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona; Dr. Lauren Burrow, SFA professor; Dr. Chrissy Cross, SFA associate professor; Carrie Wright, Project Raíces program director; Dr. Heather Olson Beal, SFA professor; and Darius Tubbs, associate program director.

NACOGDOCHES, TexasProject Raíces, a grant-funded program facilitated through Stephen F. Austin State University’s Department of Education Studies, has completed its first year of Language and Literacy Academias with their 2023-24 cohort, enhancing bilingual and multilingual education for school districts in Nacogdoches and Angelina counties.

Reaching All Individuals and Communities to Establish Success in Language Learning, referred to in short as Project Raíces, was made possible through a National Professional Development Grant funded by the U.S. Department of Education. Its goals are to improve instruction for English learners; increase the number of East Texas teachers certified in English as a second language, or ESL; and engage parents and caregivers through workshops that focus on school readiness, emergent literacy and language acquisition.

The five-year grant began with a planning year in 2022. In the 2023-24 academic year, Project Raíces provided ESL professional development, community engagement activities and children's literacy training.

“I am so excited to make the vision of this grant team a reality,” said Carrie Wright, Project Raíces program director. “Seeing teachers, parents and SFA students working together as a community with the shared goal of improving literacy has been such an inspiration.”

This year, Project Raíces hosted four Language and Literacy Academias, which are workshops that provide interactive instruction for teachers and teacher candidates on ESL testing and strategies while parents receive information on how to connect with community resources and help children in school.

At the academias, children in participating families also enjoyed a kermes, or carnival, that included musicians and artists to present cultural performances. Project Raíces coordinators also hosted Yuyi Morales, Mexican-American children’s author of “Niño Wrestles the World” and “Dreamers,” for an event.

In collaboration with other departments in SFA’s James I. Perkins College of Education, students of Dr. Deborah Buswell, associate professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Science, helped develop outdoor games for participants at the academias, and Dr. Gina Fe Causin’s, associate professor in the School of Human Sciences, hospitality students staffed the events as part of an ongoing service-learning project.

“I was part of the convention and meeting planning class with Dr. Causin and worked at the registration table, signing in parents and their children before leading them to where they needed to go,” said Belle Carrera, a first-year hospitality administration major from New Braunfels, Texas. “I definitely learned how to better communicate with not only my peers but with guests as well. Initiating conversation has always been a problem for me, and helping with Project Raíces has definitely helped me with my communication skills.”

The application for the grant — one of 44 awarded nationally — was authored by Drs. Heather Olson Beal and Lauren Burrow, professors; Dr. Chrissy Cross, associate professor; and Dr. 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.

“We are always looking at new opportunities to involve the SFA student community in active learning,” Wright said. “If you have a student group who could benefit from being a part of the program, please reach out.”

Each year, Project Raíces will recruit 25 in-service teachers from Nacogdoches and Lufkin independent school districts, 25 pre-service teachers in SFA’s educator preparation program, eight SFA faculty members and 25 families of emergent bilingual students in East Texas to participate in the program.

Recruitment is already underway for the 2024-25 academic year. Those interested must fill out an application on their website and are chosen based on several factors, primarily their relationship to teaching emergent bilinguals in their classes. The program will continue for three more years.

For more information, visit the Project Raíces website or contact raices@sfasu.edu.

Stephen F. Austin State University, the newest member of The University of Texas System, began a century ago as a teachers’ college in Texas’ oldest town, Nacogdoches. Today, it has grown into a regional institution comprising six colleges — business, education, fine arts, forestry and agriculture, liberal and applied arts, and sciences and mathematics. Accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, SFA enrolls approximately 11,000 students while providing the academic breadth of a state university with the personalized attention of a private school. The main campus encompasses 421 acres that include 37 academic facilities, nine residence halls, and 68 acres of recreational trails that wind through its six gardens. The university offers more than 80 bachelor’s degrees, more than 40 master’s degrees and four doctoral degrees covering more than 120 areas of study. Learn more at the SFA website.