Japanese added to language program

GLENDALE — School officials have approved expanding the district’s popular foreign-language immersion program to include Japanese at Verdugo Woodlands Elementary School.

The Foreign Language Academy of Glendale is a dual-language elementary and middle school program in which students are exposed to instruction in one of now six foreign languages and English throughout the year.

Classes are expected to begin in Japanese at Verdugo Woodlands next fall, representing a major win for parents there who had been lobbying for the program.

“All the parents couldn’t believe it; we’re overjoyed,” said Kumiko Yoshitsugu Anicich, whose daughter will enroll next year. “We had been writing on Facebook and the Japanese version of Facebook, posting everywhere . . . our scream of joy and thank you so much for your support.”

Japanese joins Spanish, Armenian, Korean, Italian and German FLAG elementary school programs. Glendale was awarded $2.4 million in federal grants in September that will provide for Spanish curriculum at Toll Middle School and Korean at another school by 2013.

Japanese program supporters had been petitioning district officials for much of the year and were able to provide enough commitment to bring district administrators on board.

“We would not go ahead with it if we were not confident we were going to have enough students for a class,” said Joanna Junge, who oversees the FLAG curriculum as Glendale’s director of special projects, intercultural education and professional development. “Credentialed teachers are expressing an interest for applying for the teaching program . . . it’s very exciting.”

A cadre of French parents have also begun gauging interest in a French program.

“They don’t have numbers,” Junge said. “We’re waiting. We’ll see.”

Glendale Unified was named the 2009 bilingual District of the Year, a Presidential Award given by the California Assn. for Bilingual Education. Board members were scheduled to present the FLAG program to the California School Boards Assn. in San Diego today.

Japanese will follow the Korean model where instruction begins 50-50 in English and foreign language throughout the program. Spanish and other languages begin at 90% foreign language instruction in kindergarten and decreases at every grade level.

The FLAG programs are open to any ethnicity and Anicich said there was a few non-native Japanese students who’d be enrolling from Hollywood. FLAG programs give priority enrollment to students within the district, and were initially conceived as a program to turn around declining enrollment.

“But more than that . . . when a lot of parents get behind a program like this, they invested in their child’s education,” said Janet Buhl, principal of Verdugo Woodlands. “You are going to attract individual families who really do value education and the opportunity to learn a second language, or for our kids, it may be a third language because we have a lot of kids who are already bilingual.”

Studies have shown that students in a dual-language immersion program score as high or higher in English reading and math than students in a traditional education. Students who have moved from a foreign country also learn English more quickly through a dual-language education than through English-language classes alone.

“Schools that have the FLAG program, it affects the whole school positively,” Junge said. “The rigor increases, everyone is more focused and more involved.”


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