Pinal County program taps migrants to teach
The Arizona Republic
May. 30, 2006

Lisa Nicita

Anticipating a desperate need for teachers in Pinal County, Central Arizona College and Arizona State University have forged a partnership that will funnel legal immigrants with international teaching experience, particularly from Latin American countries, into classrooms in the fast-growing county.

Students in districts such as Coolidge, Florence and the city of Maricopa will directly benefit from the Pinal Post-Baccalaureate Partnership, which also looks to diversify Pinal County's teaching staff to better reflect the area's growing Hispanic population.

"This program is a way of recruiting some people who are traditionally underemployed, bringing them to the county where we have need and giving the schools some qualified bodies," said Ray Polvani, a consultant with Central Arizona College who helped brainstorm the idea for the program about a year ago. advertisement

Approved by the Arizona State Board of Education and in partnership with the Mexican Consul General's Office, the program will recruit specific students, ones living in the U.S. legally and who have a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution but aren't certified to teach in Arizona.

The 2 1/2-year postgraduate program will earn the student a master's degree in curriculum and instruction and a provisional endorsement in English as a second language.

Program administrators are specifically looking for Latin American immigrants who were teachers before coming to the U.S. The program, a first of its kind in Arizona, will fast track the students through the certification and master's degree process in addition to offering a mentorship program.

In exchange, the students must commit to at least a three-year stay at a school in a Pinal County school district.

"We're hoping that by having them commit to three years and becoming part of those communities . . . they will settle into those areas," Polvani said.

Every bit helps

Jack Harmon, Pinal County superintendent, said he is glad his schools will
benefit from the program. But he admits that the 25 to 30 teachers the
program expects to eventually graduate each session will hardly make a dent
in the need.

He said the Maricopa Unified School District alone needs 180 new teachers
for next school year.

"This will just be a drop in the bucket, but we think it will be a way to
get some quality people and get some good assistance in there," Harmon said.
"We've got people coming in from all over."

Maricopa Superintendent Alma Farrell said she hears numerous languages being
spoken in the hallways of her schools. Farrell said she thinks the program
offers a unique opportunity to teachers with more diverse backgrounds to
find their way into Pinal County classrooms.

"There's a push to do that because of the influx of people that we have seen
out of the state, not only immigrants," Farrell said. "Because we have a
high, culturally diverse population in the state, it's not just
Spanish-speaking students."

The program is designed to specifically address the need for
Spanish-speaking teachers who can assist English-language learners.

Polvani said more students have been entering county classrooms with a need
for English-language instruction.

"We're trying to go as far as we can to find people that can assist students
but not violate the law," he said. "We are not trying to do bilingual

Andi Cardona, a social studies teacher in the Coolidge Unified School
District, said she definitely sees a need for English-speaking teachers with
Spanish-language experience.

"Those students coming from Mexico, those are the ones that really need some
Spanish in the classroom," Cardona said. "They are some of our highest
at-risk kids. It would be helpful just developing relationships with

Opportunity knocks

Cardona previously worked in the hotel industry but switched to teaching
because of the PACE program, a program similar to the Pinal
Post-Baccalaureate Partnership that fast tracks working professionals with
bachelor's degrees through their certification process and gets them into

She said she would never have made the move to teaching without the program.

Candidates for this new program must be fluent in English, and although
recruitment is looking specifically at teachers from Latin America, it is
open to any legal immigrants who have a valid bachelor's degree. American
citizens who are fluent in Spanish may also apply.

Polvani said the hope is to begin the program this fall with 25 to 30 people
and increase enrollment by the same figure each semester.

Reach the reporter at or (480) 385-7501.