Program would bring international teachers to county
The Arizona Republic
Jun. 9, 2006

Lisa Nicita

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

Students in districts like Coolidge and Florence 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. 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 have a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution but aren't yet certified to teach in Arizona. The two-and-a-half year post-graduate 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.

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

"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 will be able to assist with English-language learners. Polvani said more and more students have been entering Pinal 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 education."

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 students."

Cardona previously worked in the hotel industry, but switched to teaching because of the PACE program, a program similar to the Pinal Post-Bac that fast-tracks working professionals through their certification process and gets them into classrooms. She said she would never have made the move to teaching without the program.

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

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