Monthly Archives: September 2015

Immersion and the Shift to Junior High

Like many parents who enroll their children in an elementary language immersion program, I had (and still have) high hopes that my children will continue the program in junior high. I’m very impressed with the Utah state model, which is designed to have students spend one-half of their days in the target language (grades 1-6) and then take language classes in junior high, with students taking the AP test in 9th grade. The current plan is that in grades 10-12 students will be able to take college classes (perhaps via some type of distance education) and be just a couple of classes short of receiving a minor in the target language. See more details on the Utah model.

Originally Utah planned that junior high students would take two classes in their target language – a language class and history taught in the target language. The plans have morphed somewhat, and their current approach is that in 7th and 8th students will take an honors immersion language course, and, if desired, a repeatable one-semester culture and media course, and then an AP course in 9th grade.

A few months before my oldest daughter was about to enter 7th grade, the Provo school district held a meeting for parents to talk about the transition from 6th to 7th grade. One of the biggest challenges was that typically 7th grade students in the Provo students only get 1.5 electives. So if a student wanted to take Honors Chinese plus one Chinese Culture and Media course, it would eat up all of her electives. Many parents were concerned because they hoped their children could take band/orchestra/choir/dance/art/etc. This was a major issue and the district determined that it would need to take some time to figure out how to resolve it.

In my view, the solution the district came up with was brilliant. They found a way to be flexible and let each student tailor his/her own “best schedule.” There are several classes that traditionally most seventh graders in the Provo School District have taken (e.g., health, PE, art, etc.). The district allowed parents to select which traditionally required classes (if any) that they wanted their students to opt out of, and which electives they wanted their child to take. In our case, my daughter chose to opt out of Art, Health, PE and Utah history. That allowed her to take 1.5 credits of Chinese, plus orchestra, social dance, and creative writing.

Many districts will be shifting into junior high immersion over the next few years. In my opinion it would be advantageous for parents and junior high / district administrators to meet together well before the school year starts and look carefully at the requirements for 7th graders and how to be flexible with students who want to continue their language studies and also take full-year electives, such as choir.

Update, based on Joani’s comment. My understanding (based on discussions with two districts, but I could be wrong) is that because 7th grade does not count towards graduation that districts have flexibility in what they actually require. While parents could have their child enroll in an online health class, or something like that, it is not required for graduation.