Campus: CSU Long Beach -- October 03, 2001

U.S. Department of Education Awards $885,000 Grant to California State University, Long Beach

The U.S. Department of Education has awarded the Occupational Studies Department at Cal State Long Beach an $885,632 grant for a project that will train 50 paraeducators (instructional assistants) from the Santa Ana Unified School District (SAUSD) to be bilingual teachers.

Titled Project ESCALERA, the five-year collaborative project between Cal State Long Beach, Santa Ana Unified and Santa Ana College will provide participants with a comprehensive and accelerated training program leading to a bachelor's degree and teaching credential. In return, those completing the program must commit to two years of teaching for SAUSD for each year they receive funding under the program.

"The primary objective of the project is to reduce the teacher shortage, especially at the local level," said JoAnn Aguirre, an assistant professor of Occupational Studies at CSULB and one of two principal investigators for the project. "Santa Ana Unified is the seventh largest school district in California with about 60,000 students. Due to various factors, such as the state's class-size reduction policy, the teacher shortage there is very evident."

"Santa Ana is one of the most impoverished cities in the nation," added Ron Raya, also an Occupational Studies faculty member and the other principal investigator for the project. "I was an assistant superintendent for SAUSD, and both JoAnn and I taught in the district for more than 20 years. We have seen on a day-to-day basis the needs of that district, and we felt this was a need we could meet that others couldn't."

The bilingual aspect of Project ESCALERA is key to SAUSD. Of the nearly 60,000 students in the district, 97 percent are Hispanic/Latino, and of those, 88 percent are identified as Limited English Proficient.

One project objective is to recruit a diversified group of paraeducators of which a large majority are members of underrepresented populations and/or paraeducators with disabilities. Aguirre and Raya have already begun recruiting for the project's 50 openings, and they anticipate having all the participants selected by the end of October. Of those, 25 will have already completed an associate of arts degree, and the other half will have little, if any, college credits. Those with AA degrees will be admitted as juniors to CSULB in the spring, and those with no college credits will begin taking classes at Santa Ana College in the spring.

The grant will pay all student fees for each Project ESCALERA participant, and intensive counseling and support services will be offered by Santa Ana College as well as advising services at CSULB. On-site classes in the Santa Ana area will be offered as much as possible, and childcare will be available for project participants.

"Because the potential of people dropping out of these types of programs is pretty high, we're doing everything we can to give them extra support," Aguirre noted. "Another factor that will assist in this area is our offering students university credit for work experience as instructional assistants. This will help them reach their goal of becoming a teacher in a more timely manner."

CSULB's Teacher Warranty Program will apply to all successful participants of the project, and officials also will establish links with the SAUSD teacher internship program sponsored by the Orange County Department of Education as well as the Center for Teacher Education at Santa Ana College to provide continued support once participants are in the classroom.

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