Six elementary schools across metro Atlanta have received $15,000 each to begin dual-immersion language programs this year with the goal of preparing students at a younger age for the demands of an increasingly global economy.
The grants, two each for Spanish and French, one for German and one for Chinese, will help school systems invest in the appropriate faculty and curriculum to support the programs.
Students will spend half the day learning with one teacher in English and the other half of the day with a different teacher using only the target language for instruction.
The hope is that students will emerge from elementary school with skills in a world language, taking advanced courses throughout middle school to prepare for Advanced Placement exams in ninth grade.
They could then go on to take college courses while still in high school, possibly earning a minor in the target language before graduation, or they could move on to mastering a third language.
The programs aim to remedy an inconsistency in the way foreign languages are taught. Traditionally, language instruction doesn’t begin until high school, partially because colleges in Georgia require at least two high school foreign language credits for admission.
But research shows that students are better prepared to soak up a new language when they’re younger, said Jon Valentine, program manager for languages and global initiatives at the Georgia Department of Education.
“We know that from birth to about the age of 10 or 11, language processing, especially world language processing, is considerably easier for students,” Mr. Valentine said. “Older students and adults can still learn a foreign language, but their capacity is somewhat diminished.”
Dual-immersion is also a response to real personnel needs expressed by Georgia companies.
The $75,000 allocated for dual-immersion was actually just a sliver of funds set aside for the Georgia International Workforce Initiative, which enabled the education department to survey companies and economic development officials about the skills they’ll need in future employees to stay competitive, Mr. Valentine said.
Much of that money is going to vocational high schools and technical schools to develop programs that will prepare students to enter the workforce upon graduation, he said.
But companies also highlighted the need for language skills. Based on feedback from economic developers around the state, the above languages plus Portuguese, were deemed vital to the state’s economic future, Mr. Valentine said. For that reason, State School Superintendent John Barge aims to institute 20 dual-immersion programs in Georgia by 2020.
“These programs will help ensure a Georgia workforce that is fluent in languages and skilled at cultural interactions that are necessary for the economic development of our state and region,” Dr. Barge said in a statement.
The state opened the application process to every school in Georgia and received a few more than six applications for its available slots. Selected schools and districts include:
Atlanta Public Schools
D.H. Stanton Elementary School, Spanish
Perkerson Elementary School, Spanish
DeKalb County Schools
Ashford Park Elementary School, German
Evansdale Elementary School, French
Rockbridge Elementary School, French
Henry County Schools
Dutchtown Elementary School, Chinese