Educators from 17 school districts from throughout Texas will travel to The University of Texas at Austin Tuesday, May 11, to learn how to improve graduation and dropout rates for their Spanish-speaking English language learners through a program that helps them transition more successfully into public schools.
The educators will participate in a 9:30 a.m. symposium in the university’s Thompson Conference Center, 2405 Robert Dedman Dr., hosted by the university’s Division of Continuing & Innovative Education. It will focus on the Language Learners at The University of Texas at Austin’s Center for Hispanic Achievement (LUCHA) program, an initiative from Continuing & Innovative Education’s K-16 Education Center designed to help secondary Spanish-speaking English language learners in their transition to public schools.
The symposium will feature two Texas school districts — Brownsville Independent School District and Pasadena Independent School District — that have successfully incorporated LUCHA into their schools. Representatives from those districts will share their LUCHA program designs, successes and lessons learned.
Dr. Alba Ortiz, the President’s Chair for Education Academic Excellence, College of Education, will be the keynote speaker. Ortiz is a professor of special education and director of the Office of Bilingual Education at The University of Texas at Austin. She is a nationally recognized expert on bilingual education. Her research and teaching focus on subjects that include disproportionate representation of English language learners in special education and methods to distinguish second language differences from language and reading disabilities.
“LUCHA has had a tremendous impact on the lives of over 500 recent immigrants in Brownsville since the inception of the program,” said Elizabeth Llongueras, bilingual/English as a second language counselor for Brownsville ISD. “I have no doubt that this program is not only helping us change lives, but is impacting generations.”
LUCHA gives students the opportunity to transition into public school without losing instructional time and credits while learning English. It helps them master the core courses in Spanish while learning English and to receive a high school diploma. It also helps them build a foundation for successfully completing a post-secondary education.
LUCHA plays a vital roll in helping students achieve a high school diploma that opens the door to higher education. According to the Department of Education, there are 5.1 million English language learners in U.S. public schools. In Texas, about 16 percent of enrolled students in grades pre-kindergarten through 12 are identified as English language learners.
LUCHA was envisioned by staff at the K-16 Center to be a solution for the high dropout rates for English language learners in Texas. This award-winning program already has made an impact. After the first four years of operation (2006-2010), LUCHA is serving 29 school districts across the state (including districts with some of the highest concentrations of English language learners). It has delivered more than 5,000 online courses to more than 2,000 students and has recommended more than 10,000 high school credits. It has saved Texas school districts an estimated $11 million as a result of credits awarded.
The LUCHA program also provides transcript analysis, diagnostic assessments of students in Spanish language and online content area courses in Spanish and English languages.