This was a really cool story to write, seeing as I got to interview Dr. Kizner, our superintendent, and learn more about the opportunities in the school that are coming up next year. Enjoy!
Language is the thing that allows us to communicate with one another, coming in many different forms from all around the world. Superintendent Scott Kizner is looking to expand this area for us, hoping to start up a World Languages Academy within HHS. The program would be similar to the setup of the Fine Arts Academy or the STEM Academy, incorporating itself into students’ schedules, and offering multiple languages that students could immerse themselves in.
“It would be more than just language introduction… [It’s called] World Language and World Culture because we’re going to know more than just the content of the language, we’re going to learn about the traditions, the culture and the history,” Kizner said. “It would be students spending more time integrating their other subjects into areas learning about the culture, the geography, the history of whatever language they’re supposed to take.”
Students can specialize in a language and sample many, or they can try out multiple as long as they get their language credit in the case of an advanced diploma.
There has been a push for Arabic to become offered, as well as Italian. Chinese and Mandarin are also possibilities, but the largest obstacle will be hiring staff able to teach these many languages.
“The greatest challenge will be getting teachers who are licensed and proficient in those languages, so it’s not that easy but we’re planning for it,” Kizner said. “We would have to do some very targeted advertising… [and] we would network. We have a lot of people in this community that speak Arabic and Kurdish, so we may be aware of people. We have some businesses we do work with that do work in China, and would have to reach out to them.”
If someone is interested in teaching but is not licensed, the school would work with them to acquire that certification.
“We encourage our staff to continue learning, that’s something we do more than most school divisions. We help pay for course work, we help people pay for conferences and workshops and so on, so even if we didn’t have someone right now that’s completely endorsed [and] has the license, we would work with them to get that license,” Kizner said.
Kizner is excited to offer this program so that students here in Harrisonburg can be both more competitive and more prepared for the workforce.
“Northern Virginia and a lot of places offer a lot more languages than we [do], so what I want to do is make our students be in a position that they could be more proficient, but honestly a little more competitive with students that are graduating from other high schools that offer many languages because we’re in an international world languages global economy,” Kizner said. “It doesn’t matter what position they’re in, what career they’re looking at, there’s a good chance they’ll be working with people who speak other languages and it will really expand people’s opportunities.”
Kizner is also hopeful for the unity the languages will bring, especially considering the diversity of our school system and community.
“For me personally, I wish I knew more languages, I took French and Spanish but then I just stopped, and I wish I would have continued that, especially now working in Harrisonburg,” Kizner said. “We say in Harrisonburg the strength of our school system is our diversity, and I think that’s absolutely true. I think the way we all learn from each other and the way we communicate with each other is to understand each other, and I think that understanding is often communication, either verbal or listening… We want [the] kids [to] have a connection so they feel like they’re a part of something.”
The World Language Academy’s start may be small at first, but it will hopefully grow with time as the program develops.
“I think in the beginning it will be like everything else; there will be a few who will put their toes in the water to see like, ‘let me sample it’, and then… We want to let students experience it, let them give us feedback. Let’s see if it grows and builds that way,” Kizner said.
This February, Jeremy Aldrich, language coordinator for the school system, will present to the school board this idea for the World Languages Academy and the budget that will go along with it. The hope is to start up the program this coming fall, but if that is not possible, it will begin in the fall of the following school year.