SCSD Partners with SUNY Oswego to Offer TESOL Certification

     Published on 7/14/15   Tagged under:    District News   

With more than 15 percent of students in the Syracuse City School District designated as limited English proficient, district staff is constantly on the lookout for ways to ensure that this population is receiving the most effective instruction.
“There is a tremendous need nationwide for teachers who are qualified to teach English Language Learners (ELL),” explained Jackie Leroy, Director of the Office of ESL, World Languages and Bilingual Education. “There is a shortage, and New York State is wrestling with how to meet that need.”
Adding to the struggle, the State Education Department recently modified regulations impacting ELLs, changing the way instruction must be delivered to language learners. Now, ESL teachers will be doing more ‘integrated teaching,’ where they co-teach with a grade level teacher. As Ms. Leroy explained, this reduces the number of ELL students who can be served outside of the traditional classroom.
If a grade level or content teacher holds a dual certification that includes an ESL certification, however, an additional ESL teacher isn’t necessary. And thanks to a partnership with SUNY Oswego, SCSD teachers now have the opportunity to participate in an Intensive Teacher Institute, called the Clinically Rich TESOL Graduate Certificate Program, allowing them the opportunity to earn a dual certification in ESOL K-12.
In November 2014, the State Education Department announced a grant that would assist state universities in helping school districts meet the high need for certified ESL teachers. Two months later, in January 2015, the SCSD became one of the first school districts in New York State—outside of New York City—to take advantage of the state’s offer.
 The SUNY Oswego program offered to SCSD teachers is taught over three semesters spanning one calendar year; and it is virtually cost-free to teachers, with the out-of-pocket cost standing at $275 per semester. Even the cost of the certification test and the program application fee are waived!
“We jumped at this opportunity,” Ms. Leroy said. “The partnership with SUNY Oswego made perfect sense. We would love to have teachers dually certified to allow our ESL teachers to do the bulk of the standalone instruction that is required. Having this is really building our own capacity and is also an opportunity for us to start addressing the unique needs of the ELLs that we weren’t able to address before.”
Initially, the program was targeted at teachers above sixth grade, as changes in state regulations would place the highest need for services on this group. Fifteen SCSD teachers from Fowler, Grant, Delaware, Lincoln, Franklin, Webster, Frazer, Nottingham, ELMS, Dr. King and Seymour compile the first group of participants.
“If we’re going to change how our ELL students perform in grade level or content areas, we have to have teachers who know how to meet their needs,” Ms. Leroy stated. “This gives us the opportunity to have teachers who are experts in their content area and have the same knowledge as our ESL teachers—blending them together so the teachers are more successful in how their students perform.”
Anneke Mcelroy, a Professor at SUNY Oswego, said the program is helping teachers understand how to better work with English Language Learners in their classrooms. “The teachers are starting to understand the duality of what is happening in their students’ brains. They marvel at how students are coming into the country and learning English in such a short amount of time. As they have gotten grounded in that mentality, it has shifted how they see the students and their abilities.”
Kristin Conley, a Special Education teacher at Grant, said the program has helped her gain a better grasp of linguistics and the cultural aspect of teaching ELLs. “I’ve honed in on linguistics,” she said. “I was reading with kids recently and I was able to give them a little grammar lesson. The linguistics course has helped me expand my instruction.”
Fowler English teacher Jasmine Price agreed. “The program has helped us learn the sounds we make when we talk and why ELL students sometimes can’t make a sound,” she said. “Now that we know, we can be advocates for our kids and help them get more out of what they are learning.”
And the program’s reach expands far beyond the 15 participants. As a final project in a spring course, teachers were required to present an aspect of ELL instruction to colleagues at their schools. SUNY Oswego Program Coordinator Pat Russo explained how this is causing a ripple effect. “Teachers often learn at the teacher to student level. This program asks them to make connections at the teacher to teacher level or beyond,” she said, adding that more than 50 SCSD educators heard presentations from their colleagues in the TESOL certification program.
Seymour third grade teacher Nicole Heath said she and fellow Seymour teachers in the certificate program presented to other third grade teachers, as well as team leaders at their school. “The teachers were appreciative,” she said. “We have learned techniques and strategies, and the legal regulations of working with ELLs. It helps us plan better.”
Nottingham English teacher Sara Zizzi-Putmon recalled, “My colleagues will ask me ‘You want to be an ESL teacher?’ I say, ‘No. I want to be a better ELA teacher! We’re trying to better ourselves as educators.”
The first round of graduates will complete the program in December, and a new group will begin classes in January. Program participants must have or earn 12 college-level foreign language credits and must maintain their teaching job while completing the program. Participants must also commit to remain a teacher in the Syracuse City School District for at least two years upon program completion. If you are a teacher who is interested in participating, please contact Jackie Leroy.