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Language immersion programs have students ready for college earlier

A surge in language immersion programs across the state over the last decade has many students chomping at the bit to knock out foreign language college credits not just before they leave high school, but as early as ninth grade.

HF217, sponsored by Rep. Yvonne Selcer (DFL-Minnetonka), aims to give schools the flexibility to extend post-secondary education options in foreign language courses to ninth and 10th grade students who demonstrate proficiency in that area.

“This bill is all about opening up opportunities for students to further their learning and help them to move into post-secondary study when they are ready,” she said.

It was held over Thursday by the House Education Innovation Policy Committee for possible omnibus bill inclusion. Its companion, SF106, sponsored by Sen. Terri Bonoff (DFL-Minnetonka), awaits action by the Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Division.

With certain exceptions, state law only allows 11th and 12th grade students to take concurrent enrollment courses.

Supporters say the doubling of the number of language immersion schools in Minnesota over the last several years combined with an increase of students coming from dual language families has led to more high school students being capable of enrolling in college-level language arts courses at an earlier grade level.

The Hopkins School District has taken advantage of that trend with development of an accelerated Spanish language curriculum it calls Juntos.

The goal of the program is to bring students in grades 7-12 who excel in Spanish language together in a classroom setting that allows them to learn the language at an advanced pace. Most of those students either grew up in dual language homes or attended an immersion elementary school.

Juntos promises its students they can earn up to 16 college-level credits by the time they graduate from high school. Approval of HF217 would allow those students to earn college credits even earlier, said Diane Schimelpfenig, director of teaching, learning and assessment for the Hopkins School District.

“All of our students in this program are ready to take college in the schools level course work in grade 10,” Schimelpfeneg said. “The current (law) makes that difficult to accomplish.”

In 2005, there were fewer than 30 language immersion schools in Minnesota. In 2014, that number has grown to more than 80 serving more than 15,000 students, according to the Minnesota Advocates for Immersion Network. More than half of those programs are Spanish. 

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