Utah’s “Global Kids”

Newsweek’s recent article, “How to Raise a Global Kid,” chronicles one American millionaire’s decision to move his family to Singapore to prepare his two young daughters “for the future, for the 21st century.” It’s a good read, but will likely make more than a few parents question whether they’re doing enough to ensure their children’s chances of successs in the emerging global marketplace. Take this nerve-racking excerpt, for example: 

“It has become a convention of public discourse to regard rapid globalization—of economies and business; of politics and conflict; of fashion, technology, and music—as the great future threat to American prosperity. The burden of meeting that challenge rests explicitly on our kids. If they don’t learn—now—to achieve a comfort level with foreign people, foreign languages, and foreign lands, this argument goes, America’s competitive position in the world will continue to erode, and their future livelihood and that of subsequent generations will be in jeopardy.” 

Fortunately for Utah parents, there’s an internationally lauded Dual Immersion program available in our public schools. It’s currently exposing thousands of students to foreign languages and cultures without needing to take the drastic—and, for many, impossible—step of moving to a foreign country. 

Utah’s statewide, Dual Immersion program was recently highlighted in a seven-page spread in the April 2011 edition of The Language Educator, published by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. The publication introduced the state’s program by asking the same question you’re probably thinking right now: 

“Surprised at Utah as an immersion powerhouse? Consider these facts: One-third of the U.S. elementary schools that offer Mandarin Chinese immersion are in Utah; the Chinese and French governments help support programs by sending and paying for teachers; and the national STARTALK program has awarded Utah schools $300,000 so students can continue in Chinese immersion during the summer.”

Utah's "global kids"

Utah State Superintendent of Public Instruction Larry K. Shumway watches a student practice writing Chinese characters in Yao Lu's first grade classroom at the Davis School District's Jenny P. Stewart Elementary School.

I recently tagged along on a visit Utah State Superintendent of Public Instruction Larry K. Shumway made to two schools in the Davis School District that are participating in this program. We visited kindergarten through sixth grade Spanish immersion classrooms at Eagle Bay Elementary and kindergarten and first grade Mandarin Chinese immersion classrooms at Jenny P. Stewart Elementary. Frankly, I was impressed—we all were—by the students’ fluency and engagement and the excitement of their teachers. As an added bonus, many of the teachers in the program are native speakers, on loan from their country’s government, which is a great value for Utah taxpayers.

So far, there are Dual Immersion programs in 58 Utah schools, serving about 10,000 students, offering Mandarin Chinese, Spanish and French. By 2015, the program is expected to grow to 100 programs serving 30,000 students in five language, soon adding German and Portuguese to the list of options.

These languages aren’t selected at random; they’re the languages Utah’s business leaders want their future workers to know so they can be players in the global marketplace. These are the languages of emerging markets in China and Latin America and long-standing economic powerhouses in Europe. 

So while moving to a foreign country might not be possible for many Utahns, getting a global education may be as close as your neighborhood school. 

For more information about how to enroll your child in a Dual Immersion classroom, call your neighborhood school or local school district. You may also visit the Utah State Office of Education website or contact Utah State Office of Education World Language Specialist Gregg Roberts at gregg.roberts@schools.utah.gov for more information about the program.

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