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Bilingual bridge: Stritch grant to result in teachers for MPS

BY: HOLLY DESHAW, Special to the Journal Sentinel, January 13, 2002 Sunday

Cardinal Stritch University is building a new bilingual certification program to provide bilingual paraprofessionals in the Milwaukee Public School system teaching certificates for those who speak Spanish, Hmong and Lao.

Last October, Stritch received a $670,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education, enabling the school to give discounted tuitions to 15 potential teachers during each of the next three years to teach English as a second language.

Mary "Duffy" Kasum, professor of language, said the university constructed the idea after Seree Weroha from the Department of Public Instruction told her about the grants available to form a project such as this.

"This was a project that several people had approached the university about," Kasum said. "Seree said that there are several grants available for universities interested in working with different school districts. The nice part about this is that it was almost like an invitation. We have a really good reputation through the College of Education -- I think he felt that this is something we should be interested in."

Kasum explained the need for more certified bilingual teachers in the MPS system.

"We have a dire need for more bilingual teachers in the MPS system. In the system, we have approximately 240 paraprofessionals. These are people who have some college credits, who help out in the classrooms.

"What we have proposed through the grant is to take the paraprofessionals and help them complete their education and to receive certification to become the bilingual teacher in the classroom."

Kasum explained the grant would provide more than just discounted tuition for the paraprofessionals. It also would cover tutoring for them, as well as a stipend to cover living expenses while in the program.

"The courses will have to be taught in the evenings and then we will also have courses during the summer. Considering that the paraprofessionals most likely have summer-time jobs -- any courses that they take in the summer, we have a living subsidy to help them," she said.

Ivy Covert, director of Bilingual Multicultural Education for MPS, said the program would help with the school system's need for bilingual teachers.

"We're very excited about the program. It will raise the number of certified bilingual teachers," said Covert.

"We have many paraprofessionals who have a financial need to finish their degree. This will be a great help."

There is another goal of the program. A portion of the grant is going to be used to construct a pioneering language program at Cardinal Stritch.

"What we are really working on at the present time, would be to become the first university in the United States with certified teaching of Hmong and Lao as a foreign language," said Kasum. "What makes this really unique is that we're trying to zero in on not just helping the Spanish bilingual paraprofessionals, but in addition to encompass the Hmong and Lao paraprofessionals."

By creating a Hmong and Lao certification program along with discounting tuition for MPS system paraprofessionals, Cardinal Stritch hopes to form a program to strengthen education in the MPS system.

By certifying the paraprofessionals who teach English as a second language to be the actual teachers, Stritch officials hope that children who enter the school system with a native language other than English are more likely to succeed.

"What we're looking to do is to take the paraprofessionals and say: 'You have some college credits already, you are already working in an urban classroom, you know what the atmosphere is, and you are dedicated to this particular school system. We would like to focus our energy on helping you to become the teacher in that particular classroom,' " Kasum said.

"The wonderful thing about the grant is that here's a source of money that really has a potential to do a great deal of good for the MPS system, and at the same time there's a little bit to help everybody."