James Cohen awarded $1.8 million OELA grant, Project DREAMS to boost ranks of ELL teachers

James Cohen

James Cohen

The Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) of the U.S. Department of Education has awarded a $1.8 million grant to James Cohen, assistant professor in the Department of Literacy Education in the NIU College of Education.

The grant provides funding for “Project DREAMS” (Development of Reading, ESL, eArly Childhood, Mathematics and Science), a five-year, professional development project involving teachers, administrators, school nurses and auxiliary staff from school districts throughout nine counties in northern Illinois.

The project’s overall objective is to increase the number and quality of teachers who serve English language learners in the region. Typically such projects focus solely on literacy needs; Project DREAMS is unique in that it adds a science and math focus to the English Language Learners (ELL) program.

“With Illinois as the fifth largest state in terms of English language learners, every teacher will encounter an immigrant student in his or her classroom at one time or another,” Cohen said. “This project will significantly enhance teachers’ ability to work with English Language Learners, particularly in areas of science and math, in grades K-12.”

“With the funding of Project DREAMS, the faculty in the Department’s English language learner unit is continuing to build their legacy as the premier trainer of teachers of English language learners in the state of Illinois,” said Norm Stahl, chair of the Department of Literacy Education.

“Project DREAMS, along with previously funded programs, Project Success and Project Quill, extends our partnerships with school districts and the Illinois State Board of Education and deepens the direct and meaningful impact we are having on teaching English language learners in the state,” Stahl added. “Through this grant we have the opportunity to provide training in the theory, research, and best practice of teaching English language learners to populations within the education community, such as allied service providers and early childhood educators, that have not had opportunities for integrated training in the past.”

The project has three goals:

  • to increase the number of general education teachers with an ESL and/or bilingual endorsement,
  • to increase the number of NIU’s early childhood education pre-service teachers with an ESL and/or bilingual endorsement, and
  • to increase the number of K-12 school administrators, psychologists, nurses, and other auxiliary school staff who have received intensive training that focuses on the needs of ELLs.

Photo of math problems on paper and pencil tipFaculty involved in Project DREAMS will modify ESL endorsement classes to include math and science components. As a result, participants will have a deeper understanding of the many ways in which they can support the development of ELL students.

Cohen said he believes this also will help educators become better advocates for English language learners.

“No one is better equipped to be an advocate for the ELL student than his/her teacher. Teachers are in the best possible position to be an effective voice for ELL students. My hope is that this program will enhance their ability to advocate on their students’ behalf.”

At the end of the five-year project, nearly 350 teachers and other education professionals will have completed the intensive certification and training programs. But the long-term effect will be “incredible,” Cohen said.

“Educators encounter thousands of students over the course of a teaching career,” he said. “When you consider the transformative effect that a teacher can have on his/her students, Project DREAMS will indeed have positive and far-reaching consequences.”

In addition to Elgin School District U-46, schools under the jurisdiction of the following Regional Offices of Education are partnering in Project DREAMS:

  • Boone/Winnebago County RoE #4
  • LaSalle County RoE #35
  • Whiteside County RoE #55
  • Marshall/Putnam/Woodford County RoE #43
  • Lee/Ogle County RoE #47
  • Henry/Stark County RoE #28
  • DeKalb County #16,
  • Henderson/Mercer/Warren County RoE #27

For more information, email jcohen2@niu.edu.

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