Well over a year ago, my colleagues and I began a process to reconsider how we approach language instruction at Wildwood. Having reviewed scholarly research, best practices in other school environments, and having structured conversations with teachers, administrative leaders, parents, and students, I’m enthusiastic about the introduction of our K-12 Global Competence and World Languages program.
Interestingly, as I reviewed notes in order to provide context for the new program, I kept getting led back to 2014. Over the course of that calendar year:
1) Our board approved the current strategic plan.
2) We received our every-seven-year accreditation from the California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS).
3) We executed a comprehensive Parent Survey, which enjoyed 76% parent participation and will—as planned—be administered again in spring 2017.
Many programmatic boats, small and large, launched that year—or at least prepared to launch. They include our shift toward a Global Competence and World Languages model through which we will place even more of a premium on international awareness, proficiency in foreign language, appreciation of cultural diversity, and skill development like creativity and innovation—components that clearly connect to our mission and complement our culture, tying to existing Wildwood programs like our multicultural work, project-based learning, and our orientation toward transdisciplinary study.
In fact, four out of the five major platforms of our current Strategic Plan included tactics that led directly to our current programmatic thinking. Things like:
- The best of transdisciplinary curriculum and project-based learning will help students understand how their work connects to the real world.
- The curriculum will expose students K-12 to the issues of social justice, human nature, and the search for truth.
- Through the curriculum, students will develop versatility and resiliency as they cultivate relationships in school, their communities, and the world.
Threaded throughout all the processes and documents were questions about the efficacy of our Spanish-only language program, especially at elementary where K-5 students have traditionally had two 30-minute blocks of instruction a week. The desire for student choice was a recurring theme for older students. We also noted a shared desire for all students to deeply and fully understand their position as powerful agents of change as global citizens.
At my request and over the course of last summer and fall, Lori Strauss, Melissa Linehan (our recently retired assistant director of elementary), and Collette Bowers Zinn researched best practices in world language instruction. My colleagues’ research and review led naturally to a proposal for an integrated, transdisciplinary K-12 Global Competence and World Languages program.
After presenting our findings with K-12 academic leaders late last fall, we shared the draft of a proposal with our K-12 Spanish colleagues in January 2016. Receiving a supportive response from that group, we began to host a series of focus groups for other K-12 faculty leaders, middle and upper school students, and K-12 parents. The process continued through the winter and spring, culminating in a decision to proceed.
The plan, discussed and formally approved by Head’s Leadership Team (HLT) last month, includes the following:
- Spanish, although not the only language to which students will be introduced, will continue to be an area of particular focus in elementary, middle, and upper.
- Elementary students will be exposed to a range of cultures and languages, in age-appropriate ways specific to the curricula and integrated at each grade level.
- Division One (6th grade) students will rotate through a trimester each of Spanish, Mandarin, and one of the fastest growing languages, coding.
- Division Two (7th and 8th grades) students will be asked to rank the three according to their interest, and will focus their study on just one for the remainder of their time in middle school.
- Upper school students will be required to take three years of either Spanish or Mandarin, or two years of each.
- Should the University of California system decide in the future to accept coding as a language credit for applicants, we will reconsider our exclusion of coding as an upper school requirement option. In the meantime, technology-related coursework in the upper school will continue to fall under the banner of elective coursework.
There is much work to be done, of course, and we’ve begun to put the basic elements of a transition plan in place. For this next stage, Melinda Tsapatsaris and Collette Bowers Zinn will take the lead in working with faculty leaders and others to coordinate the K-12 curricular integration work. They’ve arranged for a representative from the Council of International Schools, an international leader in intercultural education, to work with K-12 faculty in early February.
Few individual programmatic initiatives connect to as many or as broad a range of the Board’s approved Strategic Plan goals as the shift toward Global Competence and World Languages. Thank you to my colleagues involved in the research and recommendations, to those who are already stepping up to take the lead on execution, and to the colleagues, students, and parents who so enthusiastically participated in our focus groups.
Wildwood School’s mission and ethos calls for innovation, change, and growth. This current programmatic shift is yet another example of our mission in action.
Head of School