Cabrini has launched a bold English as a Second Language (ESL) education program in partnership with Norristown Area School District (NASD), backed by a National Professional Development Grant from the United States Department of Education.
The $2,510,538 grant funds a five-year program providing NASD teachers the opportunity to earn graduate-level ESL certificates through Cabrini’s rigorous, accelerated ESL coursework, while supporting families and students in the school district with English literacy resources. The federal grant covers tuition, fees, and textbook expenses for NASD teachers, as well as books and training materials for the district’s families.
“Everyone who works on this grant over the next five years will not only be following in the footsteps of Mother Cabrini but also leaving a legacy of progress for the next generation,” said Susan Pierson, PhD, ESL Coordinator and Associate Professor of Education at Cabrini. “Teachers in Norristown are doing superhuman work already. They’ll be so proud of what they’re able to accomplish.”
The program has been years in the making for Pierson and grant project co-director Amber L. Gentile, EdD, Assistant Professor of Teacher Education, who together have done extensive research on effective ESL education strategies and culturally responsive pedagogy.
With a large majority of Norristown School District kindergarteners requiring ESL support, Gentile said it isn’t just recent immigrants and their children who are struggling with the language barrier, but also third- and fourth-generation students who were born in America.
“This initiative is helping this generation of ESL students and teachers, but as they go forward, it will help their children learn and enable more teachers to teach them,” she said.
The first cohort of NASD teachers began ESL coursework under Pierson’s instruction on Monday, October 25. Demand is high for the classes which are also scheduled for the spring and summer 2022 semesters. Though there are limited spots in each class, Norristown teachers who are unable to enroll in Cabrini’s ESL classes will also have professional development trainings according to ESL best practices.
Literacy workshops for Norristown families will be developed by the Norristown teachers enrolled in ESL courses at Cabrini and are expected to be held in person in 2022.
“We’ll learn from them and they’ll learn from us,” Pierson said. “This is enlarging our community.”
In addition to an expansion of educational opportunity in Norristown and beyond, Pierson said the program aligns with St. Frances Xavier Cabrini’s devotion to immigrant communities in the U.S. and beyond.
“The ESL philosophy is social justice-oriented, but it’s also about really valuing every learner and making sure everyone can learn,” Pierson said. “Mother Cabrini is the patron saint of immigrants, and I really feel this initiative was something she had a hand in.”