Story Teacher Preparation

Dismantling Barriers for Emergent Bilinguals

Christianne Smith

CSU faculty are helping English language learners thrive by preparing equity-driven teachers.


​Faculty from Sonoma State, Cal State East Bay and San Diego State are partnering up to break down learning barriers for emergent bilingual students, a group often labeled as English language learners.

The U.S. Department of Education granted $2.9M to fund the Biliteracy and Content Area Integrated Preparation (BCAIP) project, which aims to prepare K-12 teachers to better support students who speak a home language other than English and have the potential to be bilingual.

It is often challenging for emergent bilinguals to learn to read, write and do math in English while they're learning to understand English, putting them at a disadvantage in comparison with their English-fluent peers who can solely focus on the lessons at hand.

And many teachers aren't trained in supporting emergent bilinguals—both in teaching academic content and developing their home language. 

“These students deserve to learn English in order to be academically and economically successful," says Rhianna Casesa, Ph.D., department chair of Literacy Studies and Elementary Education at Sonoma State and BCAIP co-principal investigator. 

“But English should not replace any home languages. Educators should support dual language development while capitalizing on the rich linguistic assets that emergent bilinguals bring to our classrooms," Dr. Casesa says.​

BCAIP unites faculty from Sonoma State and Cal State East Bay to develop a teacher preparation model to ensure students develop language and literacy in both English and their home language simultaneously. The project will also convene family workshops to foster biliteracy for caregivers.

The goal is for all students to effectively absorb academic content and, ultimately, close the achievement gap between emergent bilinguals and their peers.

The number of emergent bilinguals is on the rise nationwide, with California having more than 1​ million emergent bilingual students—the highest share in the country—leading to an immense need for teachers capable of supporting them.

As a national leader in teacher preparation and the single largest producer of teachers in the state, the CSU is dedicated to preparing highly skilled teachers for diverse students at all grade levels.

“What is truly exciting and challenging is to push teachers to value and draw on students' additional language—because biliteracy in itself is beneficial,'' adds Lyn Scott, Ph.D., associate professor in the College of Education and Allied Studies at Cal State East Bay and BCAIP principal investigator.

To understand the project's lasting impact, faculty from San Diego State University will conduct research and evaluation.

In addition, the BCAIP teaching model will be made available to other CSU teacher prep programs as well as other universities across the country by 2026.

“University instructors, mentors of our teacher candidates and the families of emergent bilinguals can learn from each other to support students in classrooms," says Edward G. Lyon, Ph.D., education professor at Sonoma State University and project director of BCAIP.