School of Education ACE-STEM Initiative Celebrates Completion of Two-Year Mark with First Cohort of Teacher Participants

May 30, 2024

On May 4, 2024, the ACE-STEM research team from the School of Education at George Mason University gathered at the Fairfax, Virginia campus to celebrate the achievements of a cohort of 23 PK-12 teachers from Prince William County Public Schools (PWCS) who, over the last two years, participated in professional development to enhance their instructional skills as educators working in culturally and linguistically diverse classrooms. This initiative, “Advancing Content-Integrated Education for English Leaners with a STEM Focus (ACE-STEM),” is a five-year National Professional Development grant project funded by the U.S. Department of Education.

Cohort students present their ACE-STEM Capstone project for the Spring 2024 semester.

The goal of the ACE-STEM project is to design an evidence-based professional development program enhancing equitable education for multilingual learners by building teachers’ instructional capacity in content and language integrated education. In this endeavor, the ACE-STEM research team has partnered with PWCS, the second largest school district in the Commonwealth of Virginia with an increasingly diverse Multilingual learner student population. The teachers from PWCS who completed the professional development provided by the ACE-STEM research team ranged from first-year educators to those with over two decades of experience—all of them, however, shared a common purpose of expanding their professional knowledge and skills in teaching content and language to multilingual learners.

The ACE-STEM principal investigator and project director is Sujin Kim, assistant professor in the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) Education and World Languages Education programs within George Mason’s School of Education. Co-principal investigators are Professor Joan Shin and Associate Professor Kathleen Ramos, both of whom are faculty in George Mason’s English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) Education and World Languages Education programs. Team members also include Woomee Kim (Post-Doctoral Fellow and Project Coordinator), Manqian Zhao (Post-Doctoral Fellow), and Graduate Research Assistants, Bilgehan Ayik, Xiaowen Chen, Dai Gu, Michelle Siembida, and Yixin Zan.

Through their participation in the ACE-STEM professional development initiative, the teachers in Cohort 1 completed five asynchronous online courses to earn a Graduate Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) for PK-12 Practitioners from George Mason. “Through the five courses, the teachers expanded their expertise around innovative pedagogies for creating inclusive learning environments and enhancing academic outcomes for PK-12 multilingual learners across grade levels and content areas,” Project Director Sujin Kim commented. “The teachers had the opportunity to explore culturally and linguistically responsive and sustaining pedagogy, translanguaging pedagogy, critical pedagogy, and multiliteracies pedagogy through ongoing collaboration, reflection, discussion, active learning, and completion of performance-based assessments linking theory to real-world practice. Mentor coaches whose background is in ESOL from Prince William County schools worked closely with our ACE-STEM team to provide support and encouragement to Cohort 1 teachers.”

Cohort students present their ACE-STEM Capstone project for the Spring 2024 semester.

In addition to coursework, the Cohort 1 teachers participated in seven virtual workshops conducted on Saturday mornings, each three hours long. These sessions included in-depth discussions of pedagogies that show promise for strengthening equity for multilingual learners and their families and featured presentations by nationally renowned experts in ESOL and STEM fields. The workshop sessions provided Cohort 1 teachers, mentor coaches, and ACE-STEM team members with opportunities for interaction and critical engagement around a broad array of topics such as “Enhancing Multilingual Learners’ Critical-Racial Consciousness in STEM Education,” “Supporting Multilingual Learners in the Science Classroom,” “Following La Corriente of Translanguaging: Shifts in Perspective and Practice for Emergent Bilinguals,” and “Multilingual Family Engagement: Shifting the Focus from What Families Need to How They Can Lead.”

The teachers in Cohort 1 also attended the ACE-STEM Summer Institute, held in June 2023 on George Mason’s Sci-Tech campus in Manassas, Virginia. The Summer Institute, which drew an audience of more than 125 educators and educational leaders from PWCS and districts across Virginia, provided four days of stimulating, engaging interaction through active learning workshops, keynote speaker presentations, and panel discussions. The Cohort 1 teachers expanded their own leadership skills by sharing their growing knowledge and expertise through poster presentation sessions.

Reflecting on the accomplishments of this first cohort of educators in expanding their teaching competencies in support of multilingual learners, Project Director, Sujin Kim remarked, “Our ACE-STEM team was continually energized by the Cohort 1 teachers’ devotion to deepening their own expertise for serving multilingual learners and their families with equity and excellence. We admired their dedication to completing this two-year, multifaceted professional development program with a research focus while fulfilling their own demanding professional and personal responsibilities. Their unwavering commitment to deep learning to better serve culturally and linguistically diverse learners and families demonstrated the success of the ACE-STEM project.”

Cohort students present their ACE-STEM Capstone project for the Spring 2024 semester.

Kim cited some of the feedback communicated by the Cohort 1 teachers who completed the ACE-STEM professional development. “We heard many positive comments from the teachers who participated in this initiative,” Kim stated. “For example, one teacher shared, ‘Translanguaging was a game-changer for me, and I have completely transformed in my approach to teaching multilingual learners by participating in this program.’ Another remarked, ‘Connecting to my multilingual learners and their families by celebrating and honoring our diverse cultures together as a learning community has been truly meaningful.’ These statements are representative of the overall positive experience our cohort teachers enjoyed through their engagement in this initiative.”

A second group of teachers from PWCS has been recruited to participate in a new ACE-STEM cohort that will begin in the fall of 2024. Kim expressed her enthusiasm about this latest development emphasizing, “Observing first-hand how the professional development provided through the ACE-STEM project benefited the teachers in our first cohort and positively shaped their perceptions and practices working with multilingual learners and families, we are excited to begin the journey anew next fall.”

To learn more about the ACE-STEM project, please visit the website for this initiative. For information on degree offerings in George Mason’s English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) Education and World Languages Education programs, please visit the program websites.