Posted on November 10, 2021 by Christopher Reichert

Project SELFIES flyer A team of faculty from the Department of Bicultural-Bilingual Studies has been awarded a $2.6 million National Professional Development Grant from the US Department of Education’s Office of English Language Acquisition. The grant provides funding for the five-year Project SELFIES ( S econdary E nglish L earners and F ami LIES) .

“The goal is to prepare secondary in-service educators who work with multilingual students in the San Antonio and Northeast ISDs [to] obtain their ESL or bilingual education supplementary certification,” said co-principal investigator Kristen Lindahl, PhD.

But Project SELFIES is designed to go beyond coursework, Lindahl explains. Built into the project are additional professional development groups and coaching sessions intended to support participating teachers as they implement what they’ve learned in their own classrooms. The team also plans to organize a summer literacy fair focusing on supporting literacy practices among families in the community.

“All the project activities are designed in the interest of increasing equitable schooling practices for adolescent multilingual learners and their families,” Lindahl said

With Texas labeling bilingual education and English as a Second Language (ESL) as “critical shortage certification areas” for over three decades, she says Project SELFIES has been a long time coming. The grant aims to increase dual language and ESL support through grades 7-12. Historically, dual language instruction has focused on the elementary level, so Project SELFIES is targeted toward the secondary grades. These learners, Lindahl said are often at a point in their education where academic demands increase.

“It’s a point where adolescent multilingual learners would benefit from the best instruction they can receive,” she said.

So, when a funding opportunity was announced that met longstanding needs in the San Antonio community that aligned with the team’s own experiences and interests, Lindahl said she and her colleagues were excited. Those colleagues include her fellow co-PIs, Drs. Jorge Solis, Becky Huang, and Bedrettin Yazan. Project SELFIES also includes affiliated faculty Drs. Kathryn Henderson, Sidury Christiansen, Olesya Kisselev, and Zhongfeng Tian.

“It’s such a stellar team because we’re all researchers but we’re also all teacher educators, so there was a real convergence of our interests in teaching and scholarship there,” she said.

Project SELFIES will be recruiting teachers from San Antonio and North East Independent School Districts, with which Lindahl says UTSA has long-standing, reciprocal relationships.

“We not only do a lot of the initial teacher preparation, but in the BBL department we see K-12 educators who come back for their Master’s degrees,” she explained.

Teachers who choose to participate will complete fifteen credit hours either in the BBL department’s MA-TESL program or the MA-bicultural bilingual education program. These classes will offer a combination of content- and methods-based instruction, which those teachers can implement in their classrooms with the support of the project team members.

“They’ll get feedback, chances to reflect on their own learning and implementation, and then directions for moving forward,” Lindahl said. “It’s not just receiving information in a classroom, but it’s the actual application of what they’re learning that is a focal point of the project.”

Upon completing their coursework, participating teachers will be prepared to take the exam to earn their supplementary certification in ESL or bilingual education. Participation is open to any secondary teacher employed by San Antonio or North East ISD who is certified in their content area but has not received their ESL or bilingual education supplementary certification.

In addition to preparing in-service teachers for their supplementary certification, Lindahl and her team will collect data for the research component of the project. They’ll be analyzing how the instruction the teachers receive affects their performance on the certification exam, as well as how their implementation of what they learned changes over time. The researchers are also keen to see what effects the program has on students of participating teachers, and of their literacy fair on the literacy practices and development in community families.

According to Lindahl, this extensive data collection has two goals. “One is to demonstrate the efficacy of the project and two, of course, is to contribute to the field overall of scholarship supporting multilingual learners in secondary contexts,” she said.

By increasing teachers’ awareness of language in general and how it’s used in teaching, as well as its sociopolitical dimensions and implications, Lindahl believes that Project SELFIES could be highly beneficial to adolescent multilingual learners in classroom settings. But her team is also hopeful that they can benefit these students and their families outside of the classrooms. One of their strategies for this is their planned summer literacy fairs. These events will begin after the first cohort of teachers completes the program and will include resources and books as well as activities and guest speakers from the community.

“The idea is to draw attention to the fact that multilingual families and communities have diverse literacy practices already, and to bring them into one space that also values multiple languages and literacy practices,” Lindahl said.

She also sees the project benefiting UTSA and the field in general by investing the teaching practices both in schools and at the university. Additionally, she says the influx of in-service teachers into the BBL department’s programs will serve to benefit both the districts and the department.

“Through that exposure, we’ll promote the relationships between in-service educators and our graduate programs by increasing awareness, and also having great cohorts of teachers interact with professors and our other graduate students,” she said.

Lastly, Lindahl says the level of instruction and support available for in-service teachers could prove invaluable.

“It’s an incredibly unique opportunity,” she said. “Often teachers are required to engage in professional development, but they don’t receive university -- let alone graduate-level -- credit for that professional development.”

And with the grant providing tuition and fees for fifteen credits, books and supplies, and even the certification exam fees, Lindahl says the program offers those interested in an MA an astounding opportunity. Even those still debating graduate school would have the chance to start the program at no cost. And if they decide against completing an MA? Lindahl says that’s not a problem. “They still have the supplementary certification, even if they don’t continue on with their MA degree.”

Admission for the first cohort of SAISD/NEISD teachers will begin in Spring 2022. Qualifying teachers from NEISD or SAISD who are interested can complete this form and will be contacted by their district or the Project SELFIES team:

For more information visit UTSA’s Department of Bicultural-Bilingual studies.


- Christopher Reichert  

— Christopher Reichert