OSU receives grant for teacher diversification program


CORVALLIS - Oregon State University has received a grant of $250,000 from the U.S. Department of Education to help educational assistants in elementary classrooms who work primarily with bilingual or English as a second language students earn their certification as teachers.

The cooperative program involves OSU's School of Education, Salem-Keizer Public Schools, Chemeketa Community College and the Teacher Standards and Practices Commission. The grant is renewable annually for as long as five years and up to $1.5 million, officials say.

The goal of the program is to help talented educational assistants in the Salem-Keizer district - many of whom are under-represented minorities - gain their teaching certification, according to Eileen Waldschmidt, an assistant professor of education at OSU and one of the project coordinators.

To qualify for the program, the educational assistants must have worked in the Salem-Keizer district for at least three years. After completing an associate's degree at Chemeketa, they will work in a newly created "teacher intern" position in the district while continuing their education through OSU.

As teacher interns, they will have their own classroom in the Salem-Keizer district and receive two-thirds of the standard salary. The remaining one-third will go toward paying the salary of a mentor - a full-time teacher in the district relieved of their teaching duties - who will oversee three interns.

"We've received special permission from TSPC (Teacher Standards and Practices Commission) to create these teacher intern positions," Waldschmidt said.

The grant follows a pilot program began last year that will see nine educational assistants work in the Salem-Keizer Public Schools this fall. Waldschmidt said the goal is to have 18 students enroll in each of the next five years - an effort that would greatly diversify the elementary faculty in the area.

"There are a number of teaching assistants out there who do a lot of teaching in the classrooms," Waldschmidt said. "What we've found from our pilot cohort is they have an incredible amount of commitment. They have taken full loads at Chemeketa and maintained a full-time job as educational assistants."

As part of the program, OSU will deliver necessary liberal studies and education courses to the Salem area to help program participants continue toward their degree and eventual certification. The grant will help pay for the students' tuition at Chemeketa and OSU, child care, and tutoring support.

"These students also add to classroom discussions on campus," Waldschmidt said. "When they hear educational theories, they make the connection to their own classes where they've worked for years."