Japanese add draws interest

GLENDALE — More than a month after Glendale Unified School District officials agreed to add Japanese to its dual-language academy at Verdugo Woodlands this fall, district officials said the phones are ringing off the hook from parents.

“I get calls every day about the program,” said Sherry Kully, a teacher specialist overseeing the Japanese program's rollout at Verdugo Woodlands Elementary School next year. “I can't keep up with the phone calls.”

District officials were a little skittish about including a Japanese program in the Foreign Language Academy of Glendale, and said they needed enough parents to pledge a multiyear commitment for the curriculum that features half of its instruction in Japanese and half in English.

More than 45 families have since toured Verdugo Woodlands, and enough parents have committed to the Foreign Language Academy of Glendale that the school is expected to offer at least one split kindergarten and first-grade class, and up to two kindergarten classes and a separate first-grade class, depending on enrollment.

“With these numbers, it could go there,” Kully said. “Things are changing with class size, so that would make the difference.”

The FLAG curriculum was conceived as a magnet program that would turn around declining enrollment in Glendale schools. The dual-language program is having that effect on Verdugo Woodlands, drawing in more families in the school's region, as well as families from across Glendale and neighboring cities, Kully said.

A Japanese kindergarten in San Gabriel has become a hub of potential Glendale Unified families, said Kumiko Yoshitsugu Anicich, a parent who's been lobbying Glendale Unified officials for a Japanese program.

“It's really exciting and surreal,” she said. “It's hard to believe this is really happening, but at the same time, to be honest, because it's not confirmed, we haven't taken a moment to celebrate yet.”

There are no California-standard textbooks printed in Japanese that pass muster with state officials, so Anicich said parents will likely have to voluntarily interpret.

“Somebody's got to translate the textbook, and if parent volunteers can't do it, we have to come up with funds,” she said.

The Japanese program is built on the same 50-50 model used in Glendale Unified's Korean program at Keppel Elementary School, which was introduced in 2007. The district's other dual-language-immersion programs — Spanish, Armenian, Italian and German — begin with a 90-10 model tilted toward foreign language initially, but with escalating English instruction every year.

District officials continue to reevaluate foreign language opportunities in middle school, as the Spanish program expands into Toll Middle School this fall. It remains unclear whether FLAG graduates who reach middle school would take core subjects in a foreign language.

It's possible that the FLAG program would expand into high schools as the middle school students work though the system, officials said.

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