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Tech Center Students to Pursue Spanish Fluency in New Program

The curriculum at career and technical centers is heavy on practical skills: repairing a car, tending to a sick patient, constructing a wooden cabinet. Other skills that might come in handy, like foreign language fluency, have been left to traditional high schools to teach.

That’s set to change next fall at the Randolph Technical Career Center, which plans to expand its curriculum to include a Spanish language immersion program that will allow students in their junior or senior years of high school to spend their day speaking Spanish. They’ll talk to one another and the instructor en Espanol, and use Spanish language software programs developed by Middlebury Interactive, a subsidiary of Middlebury College that creates online world language courses for K-12 students.

As is the case at most technical centers, students arrive at Randolph to spend the majority of their day studying their chosen subject. “It will offer the students in the sending schools an opportunity to be immersed full day. ... A student who is really into language will be able to spend their day doing something they love,” said Bill Sugarman, director of the tech center.

In designing the school’s offerings, Sugarman said that Randolph administrators try to balance the need to offer students classes they want to take with the training they’ll need for college or the workforce. With a few programs at the center seeing declining enrollment, administrators began to look for others that would be relevant for high school students in the second decade of the 21st century. It was Brent Kay, superintendent of the Orange Southwest Supervisory Union, which includes the tech center, who brought up the possibility of a language program, and using the services of Middlebury Interactive. Seeing an increase in the number of students enrolled in Spanish classes at Randolph Union High School, Kay saw the immersion program, which awaits approval from the Vermont Department of Education, as a practical addition to the tech center curriculum.

“We continue to try and break the stereotype associated with technical schools,” Kay said in an email. “In simple terms, RTCC’s programs are extremely challenging and the addition of a full immersion foreign language program will further enhance the program offerings at the center.” The language programs that Middlebury Interactive has launched are aimed at helping elementary students become familiar with a different language and secondary students become competent in speaking it. Jamie Northrup, the company’s senior director of strategic initiatives, said that the approach to teaching Spanish in the new program at Randolph is different, in that “they’re trying to do a full school year where they teach all of their coursework in a target language.”

The proposed immersion program at Randolph will be geared toward students who have completed the intermediate level of Spanish study. The class will include an instructor who will prepare Spanish-speaking activities, along with the interactive software that will help students recognize ways of speaking Spanish, like the way the language is spoken in different regions. It will also put students in real-life situations, like serving demanding patrons at a restaurant, where they’ll have to speak Spanish. “Essentially the immersion part is real-time, real speed, real reaction,” Sugarman said. The year-long program will culminate in students making a trip to a country where Spanish is the primary spoken language.

While Vermont is a state without a large Spanish-speaking population, Sugarman pointed out that many migrant workers come from Spanish-speaking countries to work on the state’s farms. In pursuing Spanish fluency, students will also be gaining a skill that’s in great demand in a global economy, and one that’s adaptable to almost any profession.

“The end result is that at the end of a calendar year, they’ll have gained two years of language skill and study,” Sugarman said, adding that while foreign language is offered at all seven of the tech center’s sending schools, the immersion program’s chief advantage is that it gives students the opportunity to fully engage themselves in the study of a language.

“It’s actually a cost-effective way for the region to have a real high-end program,” he said.


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