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Our lofty language goals

Jason E. Glass
Valley Voices

The Eagle County Schools Board of Education has put forth one of those “big, hairy, audacious” goals as part of their vision to develop global-ready students: multilingual graduates.

In our work to benchmark against the best school systems on earth, we see that they already meet this goal and then some. Students in Singapore graduate knowing more than one language. Students in Finland graduate knowing three!

Here in Eagle County, as part of a system-wide effort to grow multilingual graduates, we’re working to systemically and methodically to expand dual language (English/Spanish) education across our whole system. Avon Elementary, Edwards Elementary and Berry Creek Middle School have a working model in place that we are continuously building and expanding on to align their approaches with leading edge best practices.

For other schools, like Eagle Valley Elementary with its focus on International Baccalaureate programming, dual language education is a major focus area. They already have a head start on a dual language model with English and Spanish instruction in several grades and core subjects.

We’ve also brought on dual language education in two more elementary schools this year. June Creek Elementary and Homestake Peak will begin offering dual language programming next year with the hopes of growing it all the way through over the next several years.

In other schools, we still have a ways to go and will need to look at a variety of options and staffing configurations to have multilingual education available for every student. There are foreign language offerings including Advanced Placement classes at both of our high schools focused on Spanish and Chinese. We’ve also made a strong and public promise to our employees: No one will lose their job over the implementation of dual language education.

Yes, adding more Spanish speaking staff is a must, but we value all of our employees and appreciate everything each and every one of them does for our kids and community. We can strategically use openings that arise from retirements and resignations over the long haul to expand our bilingual teaching staff as well as offering current staff the opportunity to study a new language through our partnership with Colorado Mountain College.

Our implementation motto is: As long as it takes; as fast as we can.

The Board of Education made a big splash a couple of weeks ago, moving Eagle County Schools forward as one of two districts in the state to begin offering a Seal of Biliteracy to students who graduate able to demonstrate competency in more than one language. In addition, we’ll offer acknowledgment and support along the way with a companion recognition called the Bilingual Pathway Award to fifth- and eighth-grade students who are making progress toward that goal of being a multilingual graduate.

The demand for employees to be fluent in more than one language is high and increasing in Eagle County as it is throughout the world. Per the Colorado Academic Standards (2007), “Students must be linguistically and culturally equipped to communicate successfully in our multilingual, multicultural world. It is vital for students to develop and maintain proficiency in English and in at least one other language.” By approving the resolution, the school board affirmed that fluency in two or more languages is a critical element in enabling Eagle County students to participate effectively in a global, social and economic context.

Beyond the economic benefits, the gifts of a multilingual education are many: higher overall academic achievement, greater global-mindedness, the ability to see problems from multiple angles, greater critical thinking skills and higher graduation rates. Some research even indicates it puts off Alzheimer’s and dementia!

But we’re not seeing this effort all through rose colored glasses. The implementation of a quality and effective multilingual education system will take us years of focus and effort — there is just no other way to go about it. We are committed and we will get there — as long as it takes, and as fast as we can.

Jason E. Glass is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. He can be reached at jason.glass@eagleschools.net.


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