Bilingual Ed Celebrates 50+ Years
Program leads the way for teacher prep
Sept. 22, 2020 – DENTON – The bilingual education program at Texas Woman’s University started on the fly and required dedicated, creative people to build it into what it would become 51 years later: one of the country’s leaders in bilingual education and a shining example of why TWU is recognized as a Hispanic-Serving Institution.
From its start in 1969 as BECA, the Bilingual Education Centro de Acción (Action Center), TWU’s Bilingual and ESL (English as a second language) Education program continues to prepare teachers.
It was the first program of its kind in North Texas and second across the state after Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio. Beginning as a partnership with Fort Worth ISD, the program was made possible by grants provided from Title VII of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1968, now commonly known as the Bilingual Education Act, introduced by Texas Senator Ralph Yarborough.
With finances in hand, Ted Booker, dean of the College of Education at the time, empowered professors John Riley (College of Education) and Juan González (Department of Spanish) to build the program at TWU.
The duo partnered with Rudy Rodriguez who was pioneering a secondary education version of the program as the director of bilingual education for Fort Worth ISD. Together, they would establish the first undergraduate bilingual teacher preparation program in North Texas, and Rodriguez would later join TWU’s BECA in 1975 to continue the work.
“We were the blind leading the blind, flying by the seat of our pants,” Rodriguez remembers.
TWU students would pair classroom studies with valuable field-based experience inside schools as student aids in Fort Worth. The combination made TWU’s program unique from the very beginning.
BECA recruited students from Laredo, Beeville, Brownsville and throughout the Rio Grande Valley to become part of the program, which grew quickly. Unfortunately, Riley, whom Rodriguez described as the driving force of the program, died in a car accident in the program’s early years.
Booker, however, went on to hire Maria Alicia Rodriguez-Travelle from Ft. Worth ISD to fill the void of leadership.
“She was a difference maker. The students just loved her, and she was such a hard worker,” Rodriguez said. “She was well-prepared and did a beautiful job. The program just took off.”
From there, the program moved to Dallas ISD in 1972. John McFarland took over as dean of the College of Education and supported the program by promoting it to local school districts. The staff grew in 1975, when Rodriguez-Travelle adding Rudy Rodriguez who would push for more grants to help the program build out its curriculum and provide more scholarships.
Bilingual and ESL Education at TWU Today
TWU’s success created the model in school districts throughout the state as well as at the university level. The program would expand beyond solely language to introduce multicultural education.
Claudia Sanchez, a current professor in the Bilingual and ESL Education program, has seen the program evolve in her 17 years at TWU to include English speakers.
“A couple of decades ago, the student population served by bilingual teachers used to be English learners exclusively,” she said. “Nowadays, with the growing popularity of two-way programs, both, English learners and native English speakers benefit from bilingual instruction.”
The early field experiences that helped BECA stand out in the beginning still exist in today’s program. Smaller classes, native Spanish-speaking instructors, and classroom work where TWU students work hand-in-hand with bilingual and ESL teachers keeps Texas Woman’s at the forefront of bilingual education.
Along with current Bilingual and ESL Education faculty members Melinda Cowart and Jorge Figueroa as well as others like Holly Hansen-Thomas, Mandy Stewart, and Rebecca Fredrickson, Sanchez continues to pursue grants to keep the program at its best.
She added four federal grants totaling $4 million to bolster the program while Hansen-Thomas and Stewart spearhead Project PIONERAS, a $2.2 million grant, and ELLevate, a $2.1 million grant. Hansen-Thomas also established SMARTTELL to support rural teachers in training English learners in science and math.
Hansen-Thomas also teamed with Fredrickson for private funding from the Mexican Consulate and AVANCE. In addition, the program has also earned multiple grants from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB), this year adding more than $78,000 under the direction of Figueroa.
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Page last updated 4:35 PM, March 31, 2021