The Vermont World Language Initiative

Why the Vermont World Language Initiative Matters

Vermont students gain access to best in class world language.

April 21, 2014

In 2013, Middlebury Interactive Languages joined forces with Middlebury College to create the Vermont World Language Initiative, which provides 29 Vermont schools with access to MIL courses and free professional development, subsidized by Middlebury College, for teachers. Both Middlebury Interactive Languages and Middlebury College saw the Initiative as a great chance to expand world language education to more Vermont students. In addition, the Initiative provides Middlebury Interactive with an opportunity to see a wide variety of implementations—from fully online to blended learning—and to better understand the challenges and opportunities schools and teachers face in using its courses.

The 29 schools participating in the Initiative include 11 elementary schools, five middle schools and 13 high schools in Vermont. For many of these elementary and middle schools, the Initiative makes it possible to offer world language education for the first time. Throughout Vermont, students in the Initiative are learning French, Chinese, Spanish, Latin and German in a culturally relevant context that helps them build not only language proficiency but also intercultural knowledge and skills.

To take just one example, Coventry Village School is located in a rural village just 10 miles from the Canadian border in a rural area with a large population that claims descent from French ancestors.  While the school has wanted to offer foreign languages for many years, the cost and difficulty of recruiting a world language teacher kept that opportunity out of reach until the Vermont Initiative made is possible by providing not only online courses that could be accessed by every child in the school, but also professional development that has helped classroom teachers support and reinforce student learning through activities, games and opportunities to interact with French speakers in their local community. Parents and students are delighted that learning French opens up new educational and economic pathways in Quebec and northern Vermont, and is allowing students to reconnect with French-speaking family members on both sides of the border.

Rutland High School, one of the largest high schools in Vermont, already ran a foreign language program when it enrolled in the Vermont Initiative, but limited staffing prevented the school from adding new languages or additional sections of existing languages. As a result, some students were unable to study a language because there simply weren’t enough classes available. Now, in addition to enhancing the Spanish, French and German classes already offered, the school is able to offer Mandarin Chinese language courses. Rutland High School is also able to create a more expansive and flexible schedule for students. Since students can progress at their own pace using Middlebury Interactive’s world language courses, the school was able to combine different levels of instruction into one classroom without compromising student learning. As a result, Rutland is now offering more language classes and increasing student participation in language learning.

The success of the Spanish program at Weybridge Elementary School demonstrates that even the smallest school can provide its students with access to top world language courses. Since Weybridge has been a Middlebury Interactive “lab school” since 2011, it had a jump on other schools in the Initiative.  As the first group of Middlebury Interactive students moved onto the middle school this year, they are prepared to reach the intermediate level in all skill areas of the national language learning standards by the end of eighth grade, one year earlier than students who have not been through Middlebury Interactive courses.

Have you heard of the Vermont World Language Initiative? Are you a participating school? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.

Lee McIsaac
Lee McIsaac holds a Ph.D. in Chinese History from Yale University and has taught at Dartmouth College and the University of Vermont. Before coming to Middlebury Interactive and taking on the role of Director of Professional Development, she has provided professional development to K-12 educators, helping them incorporate blended learning practices into teaching world languages. She loves all winter sports, especially downhill skiing, is a volunteer tour guide at Shelburne Farms, and even makes her own goat cheese from goats raised on her farm.
Language Learning in a Digital Environment Connecting Communities with Place-Based Language Education Leveraging Language to Implement Common Core Standards The Vermont World Language Initiative