Matthew Baughman Testimonial, Coventry Village School
Matthew Baughman, Principal of Coventry Village School, talks about how online curriculum from Middlebury Interactive Languages has helped his tiny school in rural Vermont offer instruction in world languages and culture to students.
“My name is Matthew Baughman, and I'm the principal of the Coventry Village School. I've worked and lived on four continents, in both private and public education. I was a classroom teacher, English and Social Studies. I traveled to China and South America. And my last job was in Germany as a technology integration coordinator, at the International School of Stuttgart, Germany.
“We have, currently, grades two through eight, all doing French. We started doing two through six French, and then seven and eight having a choice between French, German and Spanish. But then we realized soon after that, it’s a lot easier to do enrichment programs if we do French across the board.
“Now, we really are moving into this blended model in which half the time, or some of the time, students are doing the Middlebury Interactive Program on the computer. And then, they're applying what they've learned through the program, outside in the classroom.
“And another really neat thing that we've done here is, that the teacher who's coordinating language for fifth and sixth grade is also their math and social studies teacher. And she's been bringing components of the language program into instruction. So for example, in her math class, the kids will use French numbers at times, when they're talking about math problems. And that's been really, really cool.
“So yeah, we're definitely moving toward a blended model. And I feel like that's really what you have to do to be effective. It's important to offer a language program to students for a variety of reasons. And as I've said before, I've spent half of my career working and living on other continents. And so, I see firsthand.
“And when I was in other places, I saw a lot of other Americans coming there to work. And I've seen firsthand how the world is becoming much smaller and flatter. And people are really moving around much more than they used to for professional reasons.
“As anybody knows who's worked with people, human interaction is a really important component of a workplace. And so, when you're learning a foreign language, you're learning about culture, OK. And you’re being exposed to new ideas. And learning new languages helps students adapt to new situations and work with people from other cultures.
“The big reason is that we are fifteen minutes from the French-Canadian border, the French-speaking part of Canada. I mean, if you drove around Newport or one of the surrounding towns, you're going to see Quebec license plates. We have a lot of Quebecois skiers who come down, Quebecois shoppers who come down and take advantage of the shopping here around in this area.
“There are a lot of French-Canadian families, a lot of French-Canadian names here in this area. And so, it seemed like a very logical connection that we would teach French, for three reasons. One, proximity to Canada, French-speaking Canada.
“But two, a lot of these students might grow up and work in services or industries around here in which knowing French might help them in that profession. And three, we have families that have relatives that speak only French, or that's their first language. So we thought that would be a great cultural connection.
“Another reason to teach a foreign language is that, as far as linguistically speaking in the world today, we’re really becoming more homogeneous in the variety of languages. So each year languages, I think, are kind of dying off. Because as we become—as globalization occurs, we, especially in the business world, we develop a monoculture.
“And English is the language of that culture. There seems to be less importance to preserve, especially languages that have fewer speakers. French does not necessarily have the same number of foreign language speakers as Spanish, English, Chinese, for example. So that is a really wonderful reason to teach a language.
“You're preserving heritage and a connection to the past. So I think that's a wonderful byproduct of what we’re doing here, is to connect our second, third, fourth generation descendants of French-Canadians to their current families in the French-speaking part of Canada, but also their own heritage.
“I would say that, because we're still so new at this, we might be able—we're definitely going to develop our program so that we can make those connections more intentionally. But up until now, what we really have is sort of, we end up finding out as we talk to kids.
“For example—I have two examples, really. One, a third grade student whose grandmother speaks French, and she was able to ask her how she was or use some of the French she's getting in class to interact with her grandmother, which is really special. And I've heard from several students that they're much more aware of the languages people are speaking around them, now.
“For example, we go to Jay Peak to ski. And the last time we went, some of the older kids—some of the fifth and sixth grade kids—said, we heard these people speaking French. They're much more aware of people speaking French, especially, but foreign language. And it's really kind of tuned them in.
“The other thing that we would like to do is have, like, a travel program where we go to Montreal or we go to other parts of French-speaking Canada. So we can have kids use these skills, bring to a restaurant, order food. So to use their language for a reason.
“So one of the things that we did before we brought the program was, we asked parents what they thought about teaching foreign language in the schools. And so, I surveyed 100—well, I surveyed all the parents in the school. And the overwhelming majority said, yes, we want foreign language taught in our school. And many of them said, we would like that language to be French.
“If we continue to be able to use this program—so as far as I'm concerned, we're doing it next year. But if we continue, where I see us going is having a more robust enrichment program, where students can apply their learning. So for example, one component I see us doing is taking the kids to the French-speaking part of Canada.
“But another thing that I see us doing is, for example, having French dialogues between students. And then having that showcased to communities, community members. So for example, we do a showcase of learning. So where I see us going is really being able to model and use more performance to support the language learning that's happening when they're on Middlebury Interactive.
“My background is in technology integration. And so, the thrust of technology integration, it's never about the tool. It's always about the skill. Because tools are going to change. They're always going to change as time goes by.
“One of the other benefits that—aside from learning a foreign language—one of the other benefits, from a technological standpoint is that, it really is teaching students these ISTE net standards, the National Educational Technology Standards. So one of those standards, for example, is collaboration, collaborating in a digital environment. Students kind of need to pull together to help one another when they experience issues.
“And you know what, again, I'll say it again. It's kind of a blessing that we don't have a certified language teacher. Because it forces students to work with one another, to collaborate in this digital environment, help them solve one another's problems. Problem solving is another net standard.
“So as far as other schools considering whether or not to look at this foreign language program, I would say, foreign language is only one component of the benefit of doing a program like this. So it's going to increase kids' 21st century skills, problem solving, independence, actual technical ability, meaning, using technology to learn. And nowadays, that's how people learn things.
“And in 10 years or 20 years, it's going to be even more amplified that information is going to primarily be accessed digitally. So there are very practical technical and technological skills that students are getting out of this experience. And that, I think, is reason enough to have this as a component in a school.”