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Award honors years of research through the McKay School’s partnership with public schools

"Scholarly" is perhaps the best word to describe Stefinee Pinnegar’s office in the David O. McKay Building on BYU campus. Numerous shelves covering her office walls are piled high with books, many of which she helped to author. Among the towers of literature is the 2015 Benjamin Cluff, Jr. Excellence in Educational Research Award, but that’s not the most recent honor she has received.

During the 2017 BYU University Conference on August 28–31, Pinnegar was given the Sponsored Research Recognition Award. This award recognizes faculty members who demonstrate outstanding achievement in scholarly activities funded by external sponsors or who give significant service in support of sponsored research and creative programs.

“Any recognition I get for doing this work is recognition for CITES [Center for the Improvement of Teacher Education and Schooling] and the [BYU–]Public School Partnership,” Pinnegar indicated. The work she described was the CITES initiative that came after the English Language Learners (ELLs) populations in the partnerships districts suddenly escalated. In some districts, the increase reached 900%. The teachers at these schools were not prepared for the massive influx of ELL students.

Stefinee Pinnegar

To meet district needs, the BYU–Public School Partnership organized a coalition of university faculty, McKay School faculty, and teachers and school administrators in the Provo City, Nebo, Alpine, Jordan, and Wasatch school districts to develop a series of courses delivered on-site to develop the teachers’ skills.

Since 2002, Pinnegar has secured 15 continuous years of grants from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of English Language Acquisition to study this important initiative. The grants have been critical to the success of the project, as the public school districts have needed financial assistance in developing the teachers’ abilities. 

The impact of her work has been widespread; Pinnegar said, “Across time we have endorsed a minimum of 2,500 teachers.” With that many more educators prepared to work with ELLs, real change can come to the classroom.

Traditional ELL programs have students work one-on-one separate from normal class time, but with the huge concentration of ELLs in these districts, that framework is unsustainable. This partnership program enables teachers to support the learning of all students as they serve the needs of ELLs within their regular classrooms. Through the most current grant, Pinnegar provided professional development for education faculty members so that elementary education, early childhood education, and special education programs’ students would be trained to teach ELLs as part of their regular curriculum. 

This program is a change for ELL students and teachers alike, which is part of the reason why Pinnegar became involved with this project. “I was invited into the project because my focus is on teacher thinking and how to get teachers to think differently. We came together and developed these six courses,” she said. As a teacher educator, she helped found a new methodology named “Self-Study of Teacher Education Practices,” which has played a large part in this process.

With 129 languages spoken in Utah schools, there is an ever-present need for this kind of research and teacher development. Pinnegar added, “This is a central example of how universities and schools can come together to solve problems.”

Pinnegar said that she felt “shocked” by the award nomination because “it’s not the kind of award that a teacher educator or a college of education gets.” The Sponsored Research Recognition Award has traditionally been awarded to physical science faculty members on campus, making her achievement all the more impressive.

Quick to defer credit, Pinnegar said that she would like to thank Bob Patterson, Steve Baugh, Gary Seastrand, Annela Teemant, Winn Egan, the alternative language department, and the many key individuals from the participating districts that made this all possible.

Besides the help of her colleagues and her expertise in teacher education, Pinnegar has felt a spiritual connection to this work. “I do this because it’s what my Heavenly Father told me to do. It isn’t necessarily what I would have chosen . . . I felt called to this,” she declared. “I know the work I do blesses Heavenly Father’s children.”

Her work is not finished. In March, Pinnegar and her colleagues applied for three additional grants—one focused on early childhood teachers, one on principals, and one on regular classroom teachers with BYU interns.

Pinnegar is set to be officially presented with the award on November 9, 2017, at the Annual Sponsored Research Luncheon, where awards are given to various faculty members as part of the luncheon which includes ORCA, tech transfer, and creative works. 

With or without this award, Pinnegar’s legacy of educational research at the McKay School stands as tall as the stacks of books in her office.

Writer: Jake Gulisane

Contact: Cindy Glad (801) 422-1922