HISTORY BEHIND THE PROGRAM

Class Introduction:

A little history behind the program’s opening

The Russian partial immersion program "MIR" (Mission Is Russian) started in 2003 with a help of FLAP (Foreign Language Assistance Program) grant from the U.S. Department of Education and Anchorage School District funding match. The district identified three schools to host the program and built K-12 Russian Immersion program with a first graduation class of 2016. The elementary school is Turnagain and the official “feeders” are Romig Middle and West High Schools.

The idea to create a Russian Immersion program was supported by the local business communities, Russian middle and high school teachers, parents and University of Alaska Anchorage Russian language program. The local communities wanted to «prepare students for Alaska's future economic, social and political ties with neighboring Russia», said Janice Gullickson, Retired Anchorage School District World Languages coordinator. Furthermore, in one of her interviews she emphasized that leaning Russian, the less commonly taught language, «helps students discover many shared heritages and customs of the Alaskan and Russian people following years of isolation during the Cold War.”

The Program opened its doors for kindergarten and first grade during the school year of 2004-2005. Each year the program expends by adding the next grade level. Currently, the program is in Romig Middle School and the first two pioneer classes are in seven and eight grades consequently. Thus, the model is built up step by step, and next school year the first group of the Russian Immersion students will move up to ninth grade at West High School.

Program Admission Policy and Enrollment

The Russian Immersion program is a public optional program. A lottery, which is held in Spring and Summer, determines entry with preference given to neighborhood families and siblings. Fifty students are enrolled into kindergarten to form two classes with 25 students each. The enrollment is open to all school district students of the age of 5 and 6. The cut-off for entry of a new student is the first grade at the second semester; although heritage and native speakers of Russian who have both speaking and literacy skills are allowed to attend the program upon completion a proficiency assessment in reading, writing and speaking.

Today the Russian Immersion program extends over 350 students from kindergarten through twelfth grade with nine native Russian teachers. In addition to the Russian Immersion program, Turnagain Elementary school, where the program starts, used to provide weekly Russian lessons by the Russian FLES (Foreign Language in the Elementary School) teacher.

The main school body of the program is English-speaking students who do not have any ties with Russian language or history, but living in Alaska. In addition, the program has few students from Russian speaking families, the families of “old believers” and students who were adopted by American families.

Anchorage School District has more than twenty years of Immersion program experience and is a home of five partial immersion programs (Japanese, Spanish, German, Chinese, and Russian). The District has developed Language Immersion Program Completion Requirements. After completing six grade (the elementary level), students have a transition ceremony to middle school, the elements of which are based on the “Scarlet Sails” ceremony that schools of the St. Petersburg and Russian Far East employ.

Students who choose to continue in the Russian Immersion program at both middle and high schools will receive the “ASD immersion program completion cord” as a formal ceremony and earn recognition at graduation. One of the requirements is in order to receive the cord students have to be enrolled in the immersion program, beginning in the elementary school and have continued each consecutive year, in an uninterrupted sequence, through the middle and high school.” Last year, ASD approved the Seal of Biliteracy, an award given in recognition of students who have attained proficiency in two or more languages by high school graduation.

Partial Immersion Model

The model that the district has implemented is called «partial immersion» program. In this model, students are taught one half of the school day in Russian, and the other half in English. Each grade level has a team of teachers, one is an English-speaking teacher, and the other one is a speaker of Russian. During one half of each day, students learn Russian through various subjects (e.g. Social Studies, Science, and Russian Language Arts) and an English partner teacher is responsible for teaching Math and English Language Arts curriculum. The program follows ASD curriculum that is tailored for the second language learners. Partner teachers work collaboratively and plan for instructions, taking to consideration the need to separate languages and support one another in introducing or mastering individual content areas; partner teachers design thematic units, plan integrated content instructions, develop classroom room’s rules and strategies that implemented in both classrooms. This is one of the key components to build a successful program.

One of the routine items that the program follows is daily and quarterly rotations. During daily rotation students switch between two classrooms – English and Russian. If students have an English homeroom in the morning, after a lunch recess they will go to their English homeroom. A quarterly rotation will be the following – if students start their school day with a Russian class in the morning, for the second quarter they will start their Russian language instructions in the afternoon. Switching homeroom classrooms at each quarter grading period gives teachers an option to monitor the number of minutes of the instructional day, provides an opportunity to introduce different everyday vocabulary and address students’ physiological needs (e.g., early learner’s attention spam, physical activities.)

According to NCLB (No Child Left Behind) Act of 2001 requirements, all program teachers are certified and highly qualified in Elementary or Middle/High School Education. The Russian language teachers that receive the immersion students in Middle and High School have to have an additional Highly Qualified Status in Social Studies Content. Currently, all Russian-speaking teachers are native speakers who hold degrees in World Languages or Social Studies. Most of them received their primary teaching education in Russia and confirmed their teaching credentials in the United States.

Anchorage School District put emphasis on professional development and provides the immersion teachers with continues education through workshops with nationally known immersion teacher - experts (e.g., Dr. Helena Curtain, Dr. Mimi Met) and Russian language specialists (e.g., Dr. Ben Rifkin), summer teaching academy, and others.


Program evaluation and assessment

To monitor the immersion program students’ achievement, the program has been developing assessments that are formative and summative, content and proficiency based. The teachers used to routinely assess immersion students for Russian language proficiency using FLOSEM (the Foreign Language Oral Skills Evaluation Matrix).
Currently, the program has started STAMP assessment that ASD approved for all World language programs. In addition to that, the Russian Immersion students has used AAPPL assessment developed by ACTFL (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages), and NEWL Russian Language Exam developed by American Councils on International Education and endorsed by the College Board.

Extra curricula activities and community involvement

The Russian language teaching in the immersion program goes beyond the class instructions. The program teachers and the members of the Russian local community provide students with learning opportunities that are culturally focused and language enriched. Students learn Russian songs, dances, create folk art, play traditional Russian folk musical instruments, and play sports and games.

Overnight Russian camp for 4-5 graders had prepared the students for the program’s future traveling to Russia. The Summer Russian Language Camp “Артек” for the students of K-6, offers learning opportunities through cultural themes, e.g., Лукоморье, Олимпик, Нептун. The Russian speaking camp staff and students’ counselors from Romig Middle and West High Immersion Russian program collaborate to teach the young learners.

The Russian Immersion program has started its exchange program in May 2012. Currently, the program will host its 5th Exchange. The Russian students from the school #534, Saint-Petersburg, Russia will be visiting Anchorage and state with the families of the program students.

Annually the program parent group (MIR Parents, Inc) fundraises and sponsors cultural events, such as New Year Celebration (Новый год) and Spring Carnival (Проводы Зимы). The program students of Romig and West are actively participating in these events. Additionally, many years the Russian artists-in-residence had worked with Turnagain and Romig students. MIR Parents, Inc. are working on reestablishing the Artist-in–Residency program as well as Overnight Summer Camp.


Conclusion

The Partial K-12 Russian Immersion program in Anchorage, Alaska has graduated its first class in Spring of 2016. The collaborative efforts of the Anchorage School District administration and teachers, students and parents, the University of Alaska Anchorage and local business communities with the support of the local Russian speaking community made it possible to set off the program and develop an infrastructure to study Russian language and culture at early age, to prepare the program students to be global citizens who will gain a higher level of language proficiency and cultural awareness in the less commonly taught language that the United States government has designated as one of the “critical languages” and express a need to have trained speakers of LCTL with a purpose of national security and economic competitiveness.

This information was prepared by Elena Farkas for ACTR Newsletter (Spring 2012), and was edited for this website in March 2017.