Minnetonka Public Schools Chinese Language Immersion Program
Dennis Peterson, Superintendent
Eric Schneider, Assistant Superintendent for Instruction
Steve Urbanski, Director of Curriculum
Matt Rega, Director of Assessment
About Minnetonka Public Schools
Minnetonka Public Schools, a high-achieving school district in the western suburbs of Minneapolis, serves 10,000 students in grades K-12. Minnetonka leads the state of Minnesota in a number of academic areas, including having the highest average score on the annual ACT comprehensive exam (which was 26.5 in 2014).
The language immersion programs in Chinese and Spanish have been extremely successful since their introduction in 2006. In the 2015-2016 school year, more than half of the 800 students entering kindergarten are enrolled in one of the programs.
The success of the elementary school programs can be attributed to a number of factors: courageous leadership by Superintendent Dennis Peterson and the School Board, focused program development by District staff, and the dedication of the students and their families. Another critical component of program success is having in place a detailed plan for continuing immersion education in high school. Students and families have a clear understanding of the benefits of a robust K-12 immersion experience and of the opportunities that language proficiency provides in postsecondary education and beyond.
Minnetonka’s K-12 Language Immersion Program
The Minnetonka Language Immersion Model is a school-within-a- school plan that is in place in each of the district’s elementary and secondary schools. Families who enroll their children in kindergarten are asked to make a six-year commitment to the immersion program. In the sixth grade, students move to a middle school, where they transition to partial immersion. Instruction in the second language occurs in the students’ social studies and immersion language arts classes in middle school. The rest of the middle school courses are taught in English. In ninth grade, students have two classes in their target language (social studies and immersion language arts), and the rest of their classes are in English. Throughout high school, students have opportunities to study abroad and to participate in a range of experiences that expand their knowledge and understanding of global issues – in particular, issues specific to the country of origin of their target language.
Key Components of the Elementary School Language Immersion Program
The elementary school program has the following features:
• The second language (in this case, Chinese) is the language for all classroom instruction in kindergarten.
• The curriculum parallels the district curriculum in all subjects. Students are taught to read in the second language (Chinese) from kindergarten to second grade. In the third grade, students begin reading instruction in English, in addition to Chinese.
• Students continue to be taught other subjects in the second language through fifth grade.
• After two or three years in the immersion program, students demonstrate impressive fluency and comprehension in the language. By the third grade, many score as well as – and sometimes better than – their English-only peers on state tests like the MCA.
• Students who do not participate in the language immersion program can select after-school language programs. This option is also offered at the middle school in sixth grade.
Key Components of the Secondary School Program
The plan for secondary school immersion is the product of a thorough analysis of national models and is based on three goals that define each aspect of the program:
• Clear and rigorous proficiency targets (based on the American Council of Teachers of Foreign Languages, ACTFL, standards)
• College-level assessments embedded in each pathway (AP and IB)
• Strong emphasis on meeting the specific needs of students at every level (flexibility, engagement, and appropriate levels of challenge)
As students move through middle and high school, they have a number of options for continuing to study the language that they have studied in the immersion program as well as the option of studying a third language as an elective. In an effort to meet the individual needs of students at every level, opportunities such as international exchanges, study abroad, and core content and elective classes in the immersed language are offered whenever possible. Minnetonka Public Schools officials predict that by the year 2024, over 50% of all high school graduates will earn college-level credit in a language other than English. This is a powerful reflection on the changing nature of the global economy and the job market.
The Language Immersion in Minnetonka Public Schools: Overview, Benefits, Outcomes, and Possible Pathways outlines six pathways that students can follow that require a range of commitment to language study on the part of the student and will result in a range of ability levels. Each pathway follows a sequence that aligns with specific levels on the continuum of language acquisition determined by the ACTFL standards, and student progress is monitored based on this assessment tool.
To learn more about the Chinese immersion program in Minnetonka Public Schools, visit their website.