By Seda Khachaturian:
I met with Dr. Nancy Hong over coffee to talk about the Foreign Language Academies of Glendale (FLAG) language immersion program in Glendale elementary schools. This program allows students to choose to be educated in all subjects partly in English and partly in another language.
Dr. Hong is a proud product of Glendale schools. She was a teacher, principal, and now is the FLAG coordinator in the Glendale Unified School District She also studied dual language immersion education and then leadership in dual immersion. With her vast educational background, she is the coordinator for FLAG immersion in GUSD.
GUSD had bilingual programs before 2003, but due to Proposition 227 – which mandated English-only education – all the bilingual programs were dismantled. However, to meet the needs of the diverse population of Glendale, FLAG, a voluntary dual immersion program teaching English and a target language, was started in 2003 at Edison Elementary. Later it expanded to other schools. Now FLAG has 7 different languages: Armenian, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, and Spanish.
There are two different models for dual immersion, known as 90/10 and 50/50. The 90/10 program uses languages that have the same alphabet as English such as Italian, German, French, and Spanish. These are taught 90/10 in kindergarten and first grade daily (90% target language, 10% English). With every advancing grade the target language is reduced 10% and English is increased by 10%. By the 5th grade elementary students learn the target language 50% and English 50% (a half day of each language). Both English and the target languages are aligned with California standards for each subject. FLAG students consistently perform as well as, if not higher, than non-FLAG students in statewide tests such as CASP.
Once students enter middle school, FLAG ends and taking a second language becomes an elective. The use of a second language drops in middle school and further drops in high school where students have more choices for electives.
Nevertheless, high schools have implemented a new program to encourage students to maintain second language courses. This involves adding a new period (“zero period”) early in the morning to give students extra time for an elective to study a second language. Roosevelt Middle School, which has 7 periods instead of the usual 6, is the only middle school following this program.
In this respect, GUSD is a leader in teaching 7 foreign languages through its FLAG program.