Bienvenido EspañolDistrict 833 made a decision last month to switch language offering from Mandarin Chinese to Spanish at Liberty Ridge and Newport Elementary.
By: Amber Kispert-Smith, Woodbury Bulletin
Liberty Ridge Elementary will be saying “zài jiàn” to Mandarin Chinese and “hola” to Spanish.
“I believe we’re going to provide a high quality language experience for the kids no matter what the language is,” Liberty Ridge Principal Mike Moore said.
The decision was made to switch from Mandarin Chinese to Spanish based on a lack of qualified teachers.
Last year's teachers told the district in June that they had taken jobs out of the state. The district worked for months to find “highly qualified” teachers to no avail, according to principals Libery Ridge Principal Mike Moore, Newport Principal Aaron Krueger and Dave Bernhardson, assistant superintendent for elementary education.
“We exhausted any candidate we could find,” Bernhardson said. “With that in mind, we had to keep in the forefront that the purpose of language at the elementary level is acquisition – no matter what language.”
Under two limited teacher exchange programs with China, 10 teachers a year are allowed visas but there were no more visas to be had when District 833 inquired, according to Denise Griffith, district director of human resources.
Not all teachers of Mandarin are state licensed, as was the case with teachers at Liberty Ridge and Newport, but they are hired on one-year contracts as “community experts,” a situation common in Native American schools that offer native languages.
Four of nine teachers will still teach the Mandarin Chinese language at Lake, Woodbury, Oltman and Cottage Grove middle schools.
Since qualified teachers were unable to be found, an alternative had to be developed.
“We tried for weeks, if not for months, to find candidates,” Moore said. “We weren’t able to do that and it got to a certain point in time where we said we had to look at still offering a world language but with the lack of Chinese teachers.”
Moore said the initial decision was met with some disappointment by parents and himself.
“We were disappointed about it,” he said. “But we needed teachers to teach the language.”
Liberty Ridge will have one full-time and one part-time Spanish teacher.
However, Moore said he has also gotten some positive feedback from parents.
“Some parents are excited about it,” he said.
Moore and Bernhardson said the switch at the two elementary schools should not pose any hardships since the goal of language instruction at the elementary level is understanding, not fluency.
“When you teach a language at the elementary level it is about building those language acquisition skills,” Moore said. “We want to give them those skills so that when they decide to take a language for fluency they have those skills to acquire that language.”
Moore said it will be a little challenging having to start all of the students from ground zero with Spanish, but he’s optimistic about it.
“We need to start from square one for everyone but I think our kids are going to pick it up pretty quickly,” he said.
Bernhardson said it is unknown whether the change to Spanish will be permanent or if both schools will return to Mandarin Chinese at some point.
“We have to sit down before the first of the calendar year and review the criteria and determine how we’re going to move forward,” he said. “But we want to continue to be able to provide world language experiences.”
Moore said he would support whatever the district decides.
“What we don’t want to get into is switching world languages every year,” he said.
District leaders say world languages and exposure to other cultures are offered in elementary schools because students will be joining a work force that is increasingly global in nature. Education research also shows exposure to languages at a young age makes it easier to learn another language in middle and high school.
The decision to offer world languages at the elementary school level began with then-Gov. Pawlenty and lawmakers agreeing to a planning grant in 2005 and curriculum writing in 2007.
From the beginning, getting qualified teachers of Mandarin was difficult, according to the Department of Education, and the problem was nationwide.
Also, at some time in the future, state education officials will require that teachers become fully licensed in Minnesota, according to Bernhardson.
Moore said he is looking forward to the opportunities Spanish will give students.
“I’m looking forward to the cultural opportunities,” he said. “They did some really neat things with Chinese and I’m sure there are some that can be brought in for Spanish.”
Bulletin Staff Writer Judy Spooner contributed to this report