Korean language program flourishes with community support

Mark Keppel Elementary School students will soon be able to check out books written in Korean from the school library.

The school is building and stocking a Korean-language reading room, the latest step in growing its dual-language Korean program.

"It is very important to have resources, and for the parents to be able to read to their child," said Vickie Atikian Aviles, assistant director of intercultural education for Glendale Unified.

The new reading room is being funded by $11,600 in donations from the Young Nak Outreach and Transformation Foundation and the Los Angeles Korean Consulate General, officials said.

"The Korean Consulate this year has been very generous in supporting our [Foreign Language Academy of Glendale] program," said Naehi Wong, director of Keppel's Korean language program. "Three schools from our district benefited from their funds."

Keppel's Korean program launched in 2007 with 27 kindergarten students, and is part of the larger Glendale Unified Foreign Language Academy of Glendale program, known as FLAG.

This year, there are 146 students in kindergarten, first, second and third grades participating. The program attracts first- and second-generation Korean American families who want their children to retain the language, Wong said.

But it also attracts plenty of families with no Korean heritage.

Language instruction at the kindergarten level is quite basic, Wong said, but in about 18 months, students are comfortably chatting in Korean.

On Friday morning, Keppel Elementary Korean teacher Kylie Hwang led her second-graders through a Korean song, written out on a giant paper tablet displayed at the front of the room. Some of the lyrics were omitted, and Hwang called on volunteers to come and write in the missing Korean characters.

Students stretched their hands in the air, calling out the answers in Korean.

Many parents recognize the importance of being able to speak multiple languages, especially in a culturally diverse community such as Southern California, school officials said.

And ongoing community support, such as the recent funding donations, is essential to the success of the dual-language programs, Aviles said.

"We love working with the community and being able to have that partnership," she said.

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