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U.S. Department of Education Awards Lasell University $2.5 Million Grant

October 25, 2022

Lasell University has been awarded a highly competitive $2.5 million grant by the U.S. Department of Education to enhance training for teachers of English learners in pre-K to eighth grade with academic challenges, highlighting the University’s commitment to addressing student opportunity and achievement gaps while diversifying the educator pipeline.

Lasell’s LASERS (Language Acquisition for Stimulating English Repartee Scholar) project is designed to improve instruction for bilingual students with disabilities and academic challenges, such as learning and attention differences, through an innovative professional development program for Massachusetts teachers. The grant will provide full scholarships for five annual cohorts of 15 LASERS Scholars who will earn master’s degrees in education and graduate certificates in bilingual special education from Lasell.

Lasell was one of the few private universities to receive a grant through the Office of English Language Acquisition’s National Professional Development Program. Nearly all of the recipients are large public universities, including Indiana University, the University of Oregon, Texas A&M University, and the University of Washington. Lasell was one of just 44 grant recipients chosen from a field of more than 140 applications.

“I grew up speaking Spanish at home and thrived as an English learner in school thanks to great teachers who helped me realize that my bilingualism and my biculturalism would someday be my superpower,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in announcing the grants. “As our nation grows more diverse than ever before, we must level up our investments in educators who can provide students from all backgrounds with equitable opportunities to succeed. This $120 million, five-year investment will support high-quality professional development and teacher preparation programs across the country. It will also help us grow a pipeline of diverse and talented educators who can help more English learners realize their own bilingual and multilingual superpowers.”

Lasell Professor Claudia Rinaldi, who will serve as principal investigator for the grant, is widely recognized for her grant-funded work to attract more people of color to the teaching profession and enhance the preparation available to special educators. Rinaldi chairs Lasell’s education program and is the Joan Weiler Arnow ’49 P’80 Professor of Education.

“Lasell is proud to receive this prestigious grant from the U.S. Department of Education, which builds on the ground-breaking programs that Professor Rinaldi has developed in recent years,” said Lasell President Michael B. Alexander, noting the grant is one of the largest in school history. “The LASERS project reflects Lasell’s long-standing commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion in all of its forms.”

Under Rinaldi’s leadership, Lasell launched the Pathways to Diversity program in 2016. As reported in the New York Times, this educator diversity initiative supports students of color pursuing bachelor’s degrees in education through scholarships, mentoring, career preparation, and leadership development. In partnership with the University of Massachusetts Lowell, Lasell and Rinaldi also received a $437,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education last year for the Interdisciplinary Personnel Preparation Project, which trains graduate-level special education teachers and board-certified behavior analysts to collaborate to improve educational and behavioral services for students with autism and related disabilities.

“We are honored to have been awarded funding from the U.S. Department of Education for our LASERS project,” Rinaldi said. “We believe LASERS has the potential to serve as a national model for improving special education instruction and services for bilingual students who are learning English and have academic challenges. The program will also address school districts’ concerns with the over-identification of special education needs in this population.”

Through comprehensive, intensive study of culturally/linguistically sustaining education in the field of bilingual special education, LASERS will focus on three critical areas:

  • Training teachers to help bilingual students improve their vocabulary and oral language comprehension through small group instruction.
  • Eliminating barriers to resources and opportunities for bilingual English learners and their families. LASERS Scholars will collaboratively engage to address equity for this population as they complete courses, exchange ideas, design lesson plans and Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and acquire best practices.
  • Developing family-community engagement skill sets to improve outcomes.

A simultaneous research study will be conducted with LASER Scholars at four elementary schools in Boston, Waltham, and Newton with high percentages of English learners to help track the effectiveness of the program and make modifications as needed.

The National Professional Development Program grants reflect the education priorities of the Biden-Harris Administration to close opportunity and achievement gaps by investing in, recruiting, and supporting the professional development of an educator workforce, including bilingual teachers, that mirrors the growing diversity of the K-12 population.