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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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A Fairy Tale in the Making: One Woman's Quest to Connect Children of the World

Dr. Katie Klinger

STEM & Digital Equity Grantwriter & Education Technology Integration Expert

Once upon a time . . . sound familiar? Remind you of a fairy tale? And don't we learn valuable lessons from fairy tales? Of course! The story I am about to share with you is a real-life fairy tale about a Harvard-educated woman who wanted children to learn to speak to each other around the world.

She created a charter school for children K-3 to learn Mandarin and Spanish just miles away from the state capitol buildings in California. She even worked the miracle to bring in $1.3 million in funding to make this happen. But, as in any fairy tale, there is always an obstacle to overcome before the main characters win the prize. This story is no different.

Last year, Linda Ventriglia wrote two grants: one to establish a charter school in north Sacramento and the other to create a language academy for young children in a low-income neighborhood. The three most commonly spoken languages in the world are Mandarin, Spanish, and English.

Knowing that the success of every language program is based on sharing not only the words but also the culture in which the words exist, Ventriglia went to China to engage two universities as partners in this learning revolution. The excitement her partners from China felt about using technology to connect their classrooms with hers has inspired her to create a Mandarin curriculum modeled on her highly successful teacher kits designed to help children learn Spanish.

The plan is simple: Students in Sacramento will integrate Mandarin as part of their daily classroom activities, then teachers and students in Beijing and Shanghai will videoconference weekly with Ventriglia's students to learn grammar, pronunciation, and contextual meaning from each other. Due to the time zone advantage, parents will also be given the luxury to participate in the videoconferences after school as they learn Mandarin along with their children.

In the middle of this fairy tale, a formidable obstacle arose in the form of the school board of the North Sacramento School District. The fact that this dual-immersion charter school was tied to a specific school location was just the beginning of the dissent, which lasted for many months. Other considerations brought up to Ventriglia and her support team (of which I was one) included the charter school's budget, a lack of interest from some of the community's minority parents, the absence of support from the local teachers' union, and the district's hesitation to honor the matching-funds requirement for the awarded Mandarin grant.

Several school board meetings amounted to verbal challenges between supporters of the new charter school and its opponents. District lawyers lined up against the visionaries to deflate the excitement of creating this new learning environment despite the support team's efforts to demonstrate that educating young children to learn these languages will provide them with an advantage in their career paths.

Minority parents from the community played two roles: One set of parents supported the visionaries because they understood the gift this funding would give their children; the district invited others to protest that their children first needed to refine their English-language skills. The seesaw of this exchange during one meeting after another drained the visionaries and weakened their resolve?exactly the outcome their opponents hoped for.

During this time, three board members were replaced in an election. At the next meeting, the returning members decided that their new colleagues did not have enough of a handle on the situation to call for a vote in support of the new charter school. Again, the delays seemed orchestrated to flatten the visionaries. In fact, it had the same effect on several board members; at the next meeting, one of them simply said "Enough" and called for a vote. To the surprise and delight of the visionaries, the vote passed, making the charter school a reality.

It remains to be seen, however, whether they will live happily ever after.

Dr. Katie Klinger

STEM & Digital Equity Grantwriter & Education Technology Integration Expert
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Comments (23)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Mark N. Lewellen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
Dear Katie Klinger Thank you for the wonderful tale and I believe it will have a happy ending. I wanted to expand on one point you made about dual language children having an advantage in career paths. The obvious advantage is the children will be more valuable to more potential employers if they can function in two languages. I think the advantage goes beyond that. As you pointed out, each language lives in a cultural context. There are words and phrases and concepts that exist in one language but not in another. How often have you heard a dual-language person say, "Well, there really isn't a direct translation of that word (or phrase) into the second language." The point here is being fluent in more then one language allows for a greater breath and depth of thought. This is an advantage in nearly all aspects of life, not just in a career. Keep up the good work and never give up.
Werner Vavken's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
Nice article Katiel. Great job, great tenacity. Good will prevail! My congratulations to the visionaries and those in the trenches. Our school, too, would like to do a Mandarin program. We have tremendous online and classroom resources and would love to explore ways in which we could do a mandarin program for high school students. Let me know if there is interest to colloaborate. We are also starting the development of an online Spanish-I course. Warmly, Werner Vavken Director of e-Learning VirtualValley.org
Maria Medrano's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
How great to hear that some of the people that are visionary do not give up and that the Board of Education does see the need to stimulate children's minds to learn what is not taught in the regular schools. What we know about brain development is that 1) learning another language 2)mathematics and 3)music are the some of the best stimulors of brain cells called neurons. These neurons begin to die off if not stimulated by age 10 or so. In stimulating the neurons they send messages to the dendrites that are the memory carriers. They branch out like branches on a tree. The more the better for the development of cognitive thinking. It seems that if we educate kids to critically think our government and community would not like that as they may end up being smarter than the people making the laws. They would rather have regulated workers that keep those in power from sharing the knowledge that they enjoy. Social justice is being denied. Hooray for the people in Sacramento that are helping develop children that can problem solve and be critical thinkers as they are the future of this nation. These future leaders are not in Kindergarten.
Linda Ventriglia's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
Thank you for the responses. We are still trying to start an education revolution by changing the way curriculum is delivered to students. We are trying to move dinosaurs into the digital global age. It certainly isn't easy. First, it is the question of change. Schools are still functioning as they did during the industrial age. Prop 227 is still in force in California despite the fact that global communication is now imperative for economic growth. We need support for change. Please email us your suggestions on how we can get more support for this revolution.
Deb Wulff's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
Katie, Nice to see you are putting your talents to good use. I'm glad this fairy tale has a chance for a happy ending. Persevence and innovation should be two qualities listed for future educators. It appears education today is so involved in test results we have lost the importance of creativty and knowledge in educating our youth. Stimulating the minds of these young children through language should allow them an opportunity to be more successful in their learning path; hence a more successful student.
Michael Duran's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
In the United States, Spanish is becoming a standard second language. In the future, it will not be an option NOT to speak Spanish in some capacity. Obviously China is the largest nation in the world and they are emerging as a substantial consumer, which from a capitalistic view, means that anyone poised to be a successful business-person had better prepare to communicate with China! This school is a great idea! It isn't like they are taking choice from parents. This is a charter school. If you don't want your child to learn Spanish or Chinese and be a mono-lingual dolt like the rest of us were forced to be by short-sighted public policy, then fine... send them to the regular school. If you want to be ahead of a revolution that will be the standard 20 years from now, then how about you go ahead and send them to this great, innovative school! A governmental entitity in California doing something right? Hard to believe! But it took the work of lots of non-government people to make it happen! Texas has many similar programs looking to get our kids bi-lingual in English and Spanish (yes, even caucasian kids), but the Mandarin idea is something that is true fore-thinking and will pay off in career and cultural opportunity for these kids. Bravo! -Michael
Nancy Buge's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
On the edutopia website there is a video clip titled "World Party Video." The substance of that video serves to support what Ms. Ventriglia, Katie Klinger, et al. are trying to do. Learning a second or third language at an early age makes the mind more supple in that one learns to see that concepts can be understood and expressed in multiple ways. There is more than one way to cogitate, to solve a problem, to view the world, and having the ability to do so is an advantage, not only for the individual, but for the world in which s/he lives. I work for the Los Angeles Unified School District as an English Learner Advisor. LAUSD has more English Learners than any other school district in the United States. Data that has been collected for many years show that students who reclassify from being English learners to fluent English proficient outperform monolingual students. The benefits of being bilingual are evidenced by standardized test scores and report card grades that are higher for bilingual students than for those who are not. The time has come for Americans join the rest of the world and to come to the realization that monolingualism is cognitively stifling. Nancy Buge
Don Weir's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
It is interesting that the political side of education often takes the driving seat in the possibility/option component for students. Imua! Don
Magdalena's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
Wow! What an inspirational story! The fact that non-governmental community members stood their ground and made a vision become a reality is awesome! Thank you for sharing Katie!
Wanita Kampmueller's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
In Michigan we are looking to Visionaries to help us see possibilities for language learning. I would like to discuss the model in this article. We have video conferencing available in each of the districts and would welcome an opportunity to look into possibilities for the districts to infuse video conferencing into the language curriculum.

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