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Help desperately wanted: Bilingual teachers in San Diego County schools

California has an unsettling past when it comes to bilingual education — especially for Spanish-speaking immigrant students. KPBS Education Reporter M.G. Perez tells us about the ongoing shortage of bilingual teachers and what’s being done to bridge the learning gap.

California has an unsettling past when it comes to bilingual education, especially for Spanish-speaking immigrant students.

The California Department of Education plans to address this by establishing more than 1,600 dual language immersion programs in schools across the state by 2030.

But in order to reach that goal, the state would need to credential at least 2,000 new bilingual teachers statewide each year. That's where the math gets difficult.

Currently, there are fewer than 1,000 new bilingual teachers credentialed each year in second languages.

The goal becomes even harder to reach when you consider that the credentialing process is daunting to many aspiring teachers. The disconnection is even greater when the search is for bilingual teachers.

San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE) officials see bridging this gap as a critical priority for all districts in the county.

That is now a critical priority according to Sheiveh Jones, SDCOE's executive director of human resources.

“It’s good for students to see that their teachers might be second language learners or educators of color because now they can see themselves in their teacher,” she said

Helping the cause is a new program at San Diego Mesa College aimed at educating and supporting those who want to teach. It’s called DEBER which is a Spanish word that means duty or responsibility.

“I feel there’s a responsibility to pay it forward to our community,” said Jorge Villalobos, an associate professor at Mesa College and activity director of the DEBER program.

The program offers aspiring teachers mentoring and advising. It also offers to continue connections to San Diego State University where many DEBER participants get their teaching credentials.

“They want to feel comfortable being themselves and switch comfortably as well between English and Spanish not feeling their accent is an impediment for them to show as professional as any other counterpart,” Villalobos said.

DEBER prepares students for the requirements they must meet for the state's teacher credentialing commission to allow them to teach in a single subject or multiple subject classes.

Vanessa Stone has been a participant in the Mesa College DEBER program since it started three years ago. She’s now mentoring other upcoming students and plans to transfer to San Diego State University within a year. She is committed to helping English language learners in low-income neighborhoods someday.

“I want them to know not having English as their first language is not a disability if anything it’s going to help them in life and that they can do anything,” Stone said.