By Rebecca Hopkins, dean of the Graduate School of Education

Rebecca Hopkins

Some recent statistics reinforce that we have much more work to do as educators to help Minnesota students who don’t speak English as a first language.

  • Nearly 65,000 ESL students are enrolled in Minnesota schools, representing more than 200 languages.
  • Students need 7-10 years to become proficient in academic English.
  • A 2009 statistic documented Minnesota’s ESL student-to-teacher ratio as 49 to 1 compared to the national average of 19 to 1, and the ESL population in Minnesota continues to grow at a faster pace than the national average.
  • The Teacher Supply and Demand report continues to list ESL teachers as hard-to-fill positions. ESL is listed as an area that has consistent variances and limited licensures issued.

In light of statistics like that, you can see that the achievement gap crisis in Minnesota is multi-faceted. Here at the Saint Mary’s University Graduate School of Education, central to our Lasallian educational mission is the belief that all children deserve access to high-quality educational opportunities.

We are taking another step forward this fall semester by starting our ESL graduate certificate. We are very excited about the curriculum’s strong, integrated emphasis on literacy education. This program has four shared courses with our K-12 Reading Teacher graduate certificate to ensure that our ESL teachers have a solid foundation of literacy acquisition on which to build their expertise in teaching English learners. In addition, our K-12 Reading Teachers also need to know how to best serve English learners. This design provides a positive mutual benefit.

Our first graduate students will be from the Twin Cities and Rochester school districts, where the ratio of ESL learners is high. We plan to partner with other districts around the state where the demand exists, such as Willmar, and we also intend to grow the certificate into a master’s degree program in the coming years.

For more information on Saint Mary’s ESL graduate certificate, contact Denise Cichosz, program coordinator, at

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