Funding Renewed for ‘Project Opportunity,’ an English Language Teacher Initiative

Contacts: Laura Lindenfeld, 581-1843; Gisela Hoecherl-Alden, 581-2081; George Manlove, 591-3756

ORONO – The University of Maine’s “Project Opportunity,” a five-year government funded initiative to improve and update English language teacher training for current and future school teachers in Maine, has received $300,000 in third-year funding for 2009-2010.

The project, in partnership with the Maine State Education Agency and 15 local education agencies and funded by a U.S. Department of Education Title III grant, helps Maine teachers work with a growing number of students just learning or still perfecting their English language skills. It includes several educational disciplines, from math and science to history and English. It also incorporates applying the latest research in teaching English and English as a second language (ELS).

Maine schools have more than 3,000 children and young adults who speak Arabic, Chinese, French, Spanish, Cambodian, Vietnamese, Serb-Croatian, Somali, Sudanese, Russian, Penobscot, Passamaquoddy or American Sign languages, according to the Maine Department of Education. To accommodate the growing number of multicultural students, the population of ELS-trained teachers in Maine also must grow, says Gisela Hoecherl-Alden, professor of German and a co-director of the program, with four UMaine colleagues.

While the classroom focus for multicultural students typically has been on learning English, Hoecherl-Alden and Laura Lindenfeld, professor of mass communication and the university’s Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center, say students should be encouraged to retain their native languages, since cultural identity is reflected in language. Enabling multicultural students to maintain their traditional languages and also master English better prepares them for a global job market in the future.

The program provides coursework leading to state ESL certification for teachers already in the field and some preparing now for teaching careers.

In addition to Hoecherl-Alden and Lindenfeld, other UMaine faculty members on the Project Opportunity research team include Francois Amar, professor of chemistry, John Bear Mitchell, associate director of the Wabanaki Center, and Mitchell Bruce, professor of chemistry.