Episode Six: Secondary Language Immersion

  • You voiced your questions and concerns about the ASD School Start 2020 plan, and the District heard. Starting this week, ASD will air a twice weekly, pre-recorded Q&A session with a variety of ASD and community member hosts and guests who will take a deep dive into the details of what school will look like this fall. Videos will post by the end of day every Tuesday and Thursday leading up to the start of the school year. Topics will dig into everything from teacher tricks to encourage social distancing among young students (airplane arms!)? to how will my senior be best prepared for post-graduation life during a pandemic?


    Send us your questions here! The District wants to hear your thoughts and comments to be considered for inclusion in the interview.





    Lisa Miller - Hi, welcome to another episode of "Airplane Arms: Navigating Back to School". I'm Lisa Miller with the Anchorage School District. And today we're talking about immersion learning during the high-risk level for secondary students. I'm joined today with Brandon Locke, our Director of World Languages and Immersion Programs. Welcome Brandon.


    Brandon Locke - Thank you.


    Lisa Miller - And Sven Gustafson is the West High School principal where there's a Russian and Spanish immersion program.


    - Yes, Thank you.


    Lisa Miller - Thank you both so much for being here. We just did a video on elementary and now we're going to talk about secondary and you know, what can those families expect as we get ready to start to prepare for the first couple of weeks of school. We know we're going to be in the high risk-level. So, Brandon if you can just kind of give me an overview of what is secondary immersion in the first place.


    Brandon Locke - Sure, so, you know one thing that I'm very proud of with our district is that we actually have K-12 immersion programs, many places across the nation stop at the end of elementary school. So, our secondary so, that's middle and high school, follow what we call a continuation model. So, at the middle school where a student typically has seven class periods in a day, two of those class periods are in the immersion language. So, one is the immersion language arts, the other is their social studies class. And then at the high school level, in a typical six period day, they have one of those classes, is their immersion class. And at the high school level, all of those classes are created in house, meaning they are theme-based, for example perspectives of literature or aspects of Russian culture through film and media, something like that. Yeah, so, following with moving into a high-risk model and having just three classes per quarter, I should say.


    Lisa Miller - Right, yeah.


    Brandon Locke - What that would look like at both the middle and high is that the students would have two core classes as well as one elective class which would be their immersion class depending on the quarter.


    Lisa Miller - Okay, so the immersion class would only be for one quarter not both quarters?


    Brandon Locke - So, at the high school level, it would be either quarters... What we're planning on right now anyway, is that our ninth grade and our 11th grade immersion classes would be offered during quarters one and three and our 10th grade and 12th grade would be offered during quarters two and four. And then at the middle school level, what we're planning on doing is having... Because their social studies class is a core class that happens to be taught in the immersion language. We are going to offer their social studies class during quarters two and four and their immersion language class during quarters one and three.


    Lisa Miller - Oh, okay. So, they're constantly in the immersion element.


    Brandon Locke - Exactly.


    Lisa Miller - Okay.


    Brandon Locke - And that's a distinction middle and high because in high school, an immersion student would be I mean, still it's a full year's worth of content crammed into two quarters of semester long content. So, they're still getting a full year of academics in the language but just in more intensive chunks during two quarters.


    Lisa Miller - Okay, got it. I said that I learned that the elementary schools go up to the feeder school so, you can start in kindergarten and then go all the way up through high school in that immersion program. I thought that was interesting.


    Brandon Locke - Yup.


    Brandon Locke - And that's true for our existing programs of Japanese, Spanish, Russian, and German. And then our three newer programs which are Chinese, Yu’pik and French are still growing. So, they're still at the elementary level where we add a grade every year. Those three programs will eventually move into the middle school and then the high school.


    Lisa Miller - So, it's growing as the student's age into it?


    Brandon Locke - Hmm, yup and yup. And that's how all of our programs started. You can't just start a K-6 or a K-12 program because those third, fourth, fifth, sixth graders, they don't have the language to be successful.


    Lisa Miller - Okay, that makes sense, right. All right, and then Sven, I know you've probably had a lot of conversations and emails from parents. What are some of the common themes that are coming out of, you know, what are the concerns with the start of the school year in high risk?


    Sven Gustafson - Well, I think that it's all coming kind of clearer for everybody as we get more information out there in regards to what is the blended in-person? What is virtual school? What is homeschool options and so on. And what we're encouraging people to do is, we're encouraging to look at the blended in-person because of course, during this high risk we're going to be online to begin with as it is. But we are able to, because we have some flexibility, we are able to take some of the kids that have selected the virtual school and still give them that in-person blended model for immersion. Because you know, all these lessons that we're doing in immersion at secondary level, they've taken the curriculum, the teachers in our district have taken the curriculum because there's no canned curriculum for immersion. And they have developed these canvas shells and it needs to be taught by these specific teachers. And so, the only option is to take it through the blended in-person but we have some options where we can take kids that might be in one of the district sponsored homeschool programs and have them just do the immersion courses at the high school level and at the middle school level, you know but--


    Brandon Locke - I was going to say that's a distinction though, between secondary and elementary. The secondary level that's always been the case. And it's through the single course enrollment application.


    Lisa Miller Okay. So, if they're in a homeschool program they can do a single course enrollment and stay with the immersion program?


    Sven Gustafson - Yes.


    Sven Gustafson We have a little more flexibility in that. Just because of the way it's taught at secondary compared to how immersions taught in elementary schools.


    Lisa Miller - And then the virtual program it's still, like you said, the same teachers because they're the ones doing the translating, the teaching, so it's not--


    Sven Gustafson - But it's in the blended in-person model. So, if we were to go back to school, we would have to have conversations with the families about, as we transition back into school at the lower levels of the virus, what will that look like for those kiddos?


    Lisa Miller - So, what would be a good reason why a family would switch to the virtual at the secondary level. Can you kinda of walk me through that and explain that?


    Sven Gustafson - Well, some people are selecting the virtual just because they're very scared with what could happen should there be an outbreak or something. And here at the beginning of the school year the virtual program does, the kids that are in those virtual classes they don't necessarily have less high school like, if they were West High kid teachers. Those teachers can be from all over the district and they're teaching through that virtual program. But if we add those kiddos to the immersion classes, they'll be taking the immersion classes with the West High or whatever school that they normally go to. But here at the beginning of the school year, as we're all online, the difference would be is the West or the in school blended is having teachers teach lessons each day, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, and work straight online with the kids. Whereas the virtual program is more an online based program such as Apex.


    Lisa Miller - Okay, understood. Anything else? Any other concerns that you've heard from parents or that's kind of a common theme or anything else that you wanted to mention?


    Brandon Locke - You know, I think Sven touched on it but it really is we're learning more every day. And so, we're making adaptations as needed and we're figuring out things as we go. When we went into this spring break of last year, we had no idea that we would still be here today. One thing that we have worked diligently on over the summer, and this includes our immersion teachers is we've had teachers working on developing canvas shells, putting those teacher created materials that they've been working on for years into a more digital modality. And I also want to reiterate or I guess re-explain, I mentioned a minute ago about how the courses are scheduled at the high school level. There is a difference and that would be the Japanese program at Diamond. And those teachers and administration have been working on sort of having every class offered every quarter, but they also have always traditionally followed a different schedule in terms of how they develop and deliver their content in Japanese versus our say Spanish or Russian programs.


    Lisa Miller -And you mentioned, you kind of alluded to this as not going to be the same as what students on the spring, there's going to be more--


    Brandon Locke - Absolutely, you know, in the spring we had about a week, maybe a week and a half to figure out what we're going to do for the rest of the year. And that looked different at every level, elementary versus middle versus high. This time around we are planning specifically for three options, fully online, blended, or actually back to school in a medium low risk category. And so, the benefit of having these canvas shells created is that we have them, they are now the structure or at least part of the structure of the classroom. And so, we've made it, district wide not just immersion, district wide we've made a diligent conscious effort to make sure that we are putting together robust curriculum in all areas that can be delivered fully online or blended face to face online or fully face to face.


    Lisa Miller - And so, it sounds like... As a parent with immersion students make the decision for virtual or homeschooled really based on your family's needs not necessarily the curriculum. The immersion program is there, it's an option. And then whether you opt for homeschooling or the virtual program is really based on your specific health situations and your concern is about the COVID.


    Brandon Locke - Yeah.


    Brandon Locke - Also, at the secondary level, I would encourage families that have questions to reach out to either their immersion teacher or their counselor or of course the building principal or the curriculum principal to talk through because every situation is different. We do have medically fragile students that physically cannot be back in the building for whatever medical reason they may have. So, we're here to work with families. Families have made, in an immersion program, have traditionally made a 13-year commitment. We don't want to lose our families, we want to continue to provide this rich experience for the students. And I will say that one question or concern that has come up several times is, if I choose to not take an immersion class this year, am I going to lose my immersion cord? And the answer is no, we're not going to penalize students when they get to the senior year. So, they could be a seventh grader this year or a ninth grader. But when they become a senior and are ready to get that cord, we're going to look back and we're not going to penalize them and say oh, you skipped out on seventh grade. We're dealing with a worldwide pandemic and we want to make sure that we're meeting those needs of those students and again, without any type of penalty like that.


    Lisa Miller - And what's the best way to get in touch if parents do have questions, are you doing like a regular zoom meetings?


    Sven Gustafson It depends upon the school. I can't talk to the other schools but emailing is the easiest way. Because we're very busy right now, we're recreating an entire schedule from scratch and having to schedule in all these kids at the secondary level, middle or high school, it's quite an undertaking. And we get back to people, it's just we have to be a little bit patient right now until we get through all this.


    Lisa Miller - All right, so email and also, again checking back to the ASD website, we have our FAQs and updating those daily so.


    Brandon Locke - Yeah, and if there are some questions that come up that are not answered in those FAQs, filling out that form would be great because we are adding to those based on commonalities of questions. So, on the ASD website we have the immersion section, there's elementary FAQS for immersion, secondary FAQs for immersion. And again, especially at the high school level the students have had their immersion teacher multiple times so, they have that connection. Even though teachers aren't technically on contract yet, I know a lot of families are reaching out. And then the teacher can then go to the principal or the counselor or the curriculum principal, depending on what the situation is to help navigate that for the families.


    Lisa Miller -So, it sounds like we're all in this together.


    Brandon Locke - We are.


    Lisa Miller - Every family situation is unique and reach out to principals and directors and see what the best fit is for your students.


    Brandon Locke - Absolutely, yeah.


    Lisa Miller - Well, Sven and Brandon, I know you're super busy. Thank you very much for your time and for being here to go over these questions that we have. Thank you for tuning in to another episode of "Airplane Arms: Navigating Back to School" and like Brandon mentioned, we're checking those Google forms. So, if you have questions specifically on immersion learnings, go ahead and submit the Google form and check back to the ASD website where we're updating the FAQ page pretty much daily. So, thanks for tuning in.




Last Modified on August 7, 2020