AUSTIN (KXAN) — A new partnership between Austin’s school district and St. Edward’s University is finding and grooming tomorrow’s dual-language instructors. 

The state’s shortage of bilingual teachers is dire, said Dr. Arcelia Hernandez, a professor of bilingual education at the university. She said her team approached the Austin Independent School District about a four-day summer program that identifies dual language students and gets them on track to teach after college. 

“My kindergarten teacher, that’s when I had problems with speaking English” said 14-year-old Jiapsi Johnson, of the first teacher who taught her English. “She was bilingual, so she helped me out a lot.”

Jiapsi will attend Akins High School in south Austin this fall. It is one of two AISD high schools with a dual language program. Every year students take two subjects, a core class and an elective, in Spanish. She said her parents wanted her in the program to retain her first language. 

“It’s a part of our culture,” Jiapsi said. “It’s a part of who I am.”

According to the Texas Education Agency, the state had a little more than 21,000 dual-language instructors in the 2016-2017 school year, who taught to more than one million bilingual students. Experts say those numbers are about the same in California, New Mexico and New York. 

“I think that young people are turned off when they think about becoming classroom teachers because they think they’re going to be limited to a classroom setting,” Hernandez said. “They can teach abroad. They can teach English or Spanish.”

Some students say even if they don’t end up in front of a classroom, knowing two languages is a boon.

“It’s an easier way for me to get a job, to speak both languages,” said Sarah Hernandez, 14, who will also attend Akins High in the fall. “It’s great to have something where you can keep your first language.”

Central Texas school districts said the gap of bilingual teachers is impacting classrooms. AISD currently has 57 openings for dual-language candidates. Hays CISD has 11 spots vacant; and, Leander has three openings. Round Rock and Pflugerville each needs six bilingual teachers.