Future teachers studying teaching English to students of other languages (TESOL) at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) have a new opportunity for their field experience: working with emergent bilingual students in the Storm Lake Community School District (SLCSD). 

Emergent bilinguals are students who are learning a new language while continuing to develop their home language. Over 10 percent of the student population in U.S. schools--about five million students--are learning English as a second language. According to the SLCSD, about 64 percent of its students are considered English language learners (ELL). There are 24 different languages spoken in the district, with Spanish speakers being the largest ELL group.  

Through a new agreement with the district, Aliza Fones, assistant professor, languages and literatures, will observe and mentor the 13 UNI students on site the week of October 18-22 at Storm Lake elementary, middle and high schools. This is part of what UNI Teacher Education calls its “Participation Week.” This is a 40-hour, immersive, full week of experience in a classroom—the most extensive placement students have prior to their final semester-long student teaching as they conclude their degrees. 

“It is crucial that we prepare teachers to work with emergent bilingual students and students from diverse linguistic backgrounds. My goal is that through this kind of experience in the schools and community, these future teachers will learn more about how to do that in a way that is supportive of students’ home languages and cultures,” Fones said.

“As a school district, we are incredibly excited about and grateful for this partnership with the University of Northern Iowa,” said Dr. Stacey Cole, SLCSD superintendent. “This program is giving a number of our English language learners the opportunity to get one-on-one attention from emerging educators attending UNI. This is a terrific partnership that holds the potential to truly help our students.”

UNI Teacher Education requires four levels of field experience, often beginning the freshman year. UNI has agreements with about 300 school districts that allow nearly 1,300 placements annually across the levels, with most placements managed by student teaching coordinators (STCs) in the UNI Department of Teaching. For Level III (the level for the Storm Lake experiences), placements arranged by both STCs and secondary teaching-level faculty can range from local Cedar Valley schools to opportunities in students’ hometown schools and across the state. 

With the size of the Storm Lake placement, Cindy Cone, UNI student teaching coordinator for western Iowa based out of Storm Lake, worked closely with community contacts to secure housing and create a schedule of after school events which include:

  • Meeting with community leaders 
  • Volunteering with the after school program
  • Meeting with UNI alum Abbey Green, SLCSDl’s multilingual programs director, and the district’s ELL teachers
  • Volunteering for Food with Friends to unload, pack and deliver meals

The Storm Lake partnership adds to the experiences UNI teacher education students seek as demographics change statewide and nationally. “Creative approaches like this that fold in rich, authentic experiences for our students and with our partners is another step toward elevating our good work at UNI,” said Colleen Mulholland, dean, UNI College of Education, and chair of the UNI Teacher Education Executive Council.


Steve Schmadeke, UNI public relations manager, 319-273-6120, steve.schmadeke@uni.edu