CEOP partners with Topeka Public Schools to improve instruction for English learners and dual language learners

LAWRENCE — The University of Kansas Center for Educational Opportunity Programs has been awarded a five-year, $2.44 million project to serve 125 educators, 450 students, and 100 families through a partnership with Topeka Public Schools (TPS).

Funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA), Supporting Educators, Math Instructors, and Language Learners for Advancement (SEMILLA) employs a robust system of professional development for educators within Topeka Public Schools who work closely with English learners and dual language learners. The goal is to empower educators to help improve academic outcomes for language learners in and out of the classroom.

This is not the first partnership between CEOP and TPS focused on educational access and equity. Under the leadership of CEOP Director, Ngondi Kamatuka, the center has cultivated a longstanding relationship through several programs that serve Topeka students, including GEAR UP, TRIO Upward Bound, TRIO Upward Bound Math & Science, and TRIO Educational Opportunity Centers.

“This will be a true partnership between KU and Topeka Public Schools,” said Kamatuka. “When you talk about access to educational success, access isn’t enough if you don’t also have support. We’ll work with several partners, including TPS Director of English Learner and Dual Language Programs and colleagues at Kansas State University, to expand opportunities for educators to enhance their pedagogical skillsets to better serve language learners.”

The SEMILLA grant provides $480,000 a year for five years to support five key components of the grant including:

  • assist in-service teachers who take graduate courses toward their English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) endorsement;
  • provide outreach services to engage families in the development of their children’s biliteracy skills;
  • to implement an evidence-based math software in middle schools;
  • to increase the number of high school students receiving a Kansas Seal of Biliteracy certification before graduation; and
  • to engage paraprofessionals in regular professional development.

SEMILLA extends a partnership with Kansas State University’s Center for Intercultural and Multilingual Advocacy, which will provide coursework for Topeka Public Schools educators. Program liaison Shabina Kavimandan said, “We are excited to partner with CEOP once again to improve language learners’ academic and linguistic outcomes by providing a rigorous curriculum in ESOL courses and PRAXIS preparation for in-service educators.” Collectively, CEOP and its KSU partners have more than 30 years of experience working on OELA grants in the state of Kansas.

Additionally, SEMILLA will establish a collaborative effort between CEOP and TPS to increase the number of students receiving the Kansas Seal of Biliteracy. This is part of a strategic plan designed by the Topeka Public School Board and Superintendent, Tiffany Anderson, to increase awareness, access, and attainment of the Kansas Seal of Biliteracy, a certification awarded to high school juniors and seniors who demonstrate proficiency in English and in another world language. Attainment of the Kansas Seal of Biliteracy goes on students’ transcripts, thereby demonstrating their career and college readiness.  

Director of TPS English Learner Programs Anita Curry shared, “Enhancing awareness and preparation for the Kansas Seal of Biliteracy supports our goal to prepare students for post-secondary opportunities.” Together, CEOP and Topeka Public Schools intend to support at least 100 students in this endeavor throughout the grant period.

SEMILLA is a nod to Topeka Public Schools’ English learners and their home language. Semilla, or “seed” in Spanish, serves as an analogy for the project’s objectives which, through the partnership, will grow and bear fruit for students, educators, and families throughout the grant cycle.