Project Ignite prepares educators to work with multilingual students

Posted on July 04, 2022

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UNC Greensboro has a long history of preparing educators to work with multilingual students across the state, the nation, and the globe.

These educators are readied for successful careers through the School of Education’s TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) program, designed by Dr. Ye He, Dr. Jamie Schissel, and Dr. Melody Zoch to support English as a Second Language (ESL) licensing for undergraduates, graduate students, and educators seeking coursework and continued professional development opportunities.

At the heart of the program is the belief that access to quality teacher preparation is imperative for promoting equitable teaching for multilingual students and their families. Since its inception, the program has seen great success with offerings to advocate for asset-based, culturally and linguistically-responsive approaches.

In the past five years, the program has supported 16 preservice teachers and 49 in-service teachers in taking ESL coursework, empowered 87 teachers to complete over 30 hours of professional development related to TESOL and family engagement, and engaged 461 families of multilingual learners through a variety of enriching activities. This work has spanned more than 44 school districts and counties across the state.

Thanks to continued collaboration with local schools and community partners such as the NC Department of Public Instruction, Guilford County Schools, and Winston-Salem & Forsyth County Schools, the program is growing. And to be able to recruit and support teachers from a variety of backgrounds so that paying tuition is not a hindrance, funding is integral. 

For the past several years, the TESOL faculty have been awarded over $5 million in funding from National Professional Development grants through the U.S. Department of Education. The latest grant, Project Ignite (Innovation to Grow, Nurture, and Inspire Teachers of English-Learners), will support educators through 2026. Following on the heels of previous grants such as Project EnACTeD (Engaging and Advancing Community-centered Teacher Development) and TESOL for ALL, Project Ignite will continue to support preservice ESL teacher preparation, ESL add-on licensure, and professional development for in-service teachers. This funding also allows the TESOL faculty to strengthen university-school-community partnerships and continue supporting the engagement of families from multilingual backgrounds. 

For preservice teachers taking undergraduate courses and teachers taking graduate-level courses, this support primarily consists of paying all tuition and fees for TESOL classes and fees to complete the state ESL licensure exam. For teachers, this means providing stipends for teachers’ time. And for families, this means providing materials for family engagement activities and stipends for their time to provide feedback in small groups interviews.

The impact of this program is not only felt across the state, but it’s evident in the completers of the program, too. Some of the comments TESOL completers have made include:

“I really felt such a sense of belonging in the courses I took. So much of what I learned and the people I’ve met have shaped me to become the educator that I am today.”

Martha Reyes, ESL Second Academic Concentration

“Going back to school to get my masters in TESOL at UNCG remains one of the best decisions I have made. This unique degree qualified me for a wide range of meaningful and enriching career opportunities.”

Juliet Biemiller, graduate of the TESOL MAT program

“This program was life-changing in many ways. It was and continues to be the ultimate educational experience, allowing me to influence and empower generations of English learners and colleagues in this field.”

Carlos Oliviera, graduate of the TESOL MEd program

Interested in becoming an ESL educator?

Project Ignite is now accepting applications from both preservice teachers and in-service teachers. For those who are interested in becoming a K-12 ESL teacher, Ignite offers tuition support through the TESOL MAT program. For residency license ESL teachers, tuition support is offered through the NCTeach program. For experienced teachers with NC teaching licensure, tuition support is provided through the online ESL Add-on program.  All educators interested in professional development opportunities to further support multilingual students and their families may want to check out the Ignite professional learning community (PLC).

Story by Dr. Melody Zoch, School of Education
Photography by Carine Kelleher


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