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Menahga’s world language class a staple of diversity

Classes are taught through computer programs after school officials discovered student iPad platforms would not support Rosetta Stone. (Nick Longworth / Enterprise)

By Nick Longworth

Walking down the halls of Menahga high school, one shouldn’t be surprised by being greeted with a “Bon Jour,” “Guten Tag,” or “Ciao.”

That’s because for a half decade now Menahga has been offering a “world language” class, affording students the chance to learn 30 different languages from all around the world. Among the languages offered are French, German, Italian, Irish, Korean, Polish, Russian and Swedish.

Led by world language teacher Jamie Simon Linkowitz, the class is a hybrid mix of independent online learning and physical student - teacher interaction.

The class itself is largely dependent on a software program provided by the language-learning giant Rosetta Stone (purchased by the school district at an educational discount through the National Joint Power Alliance).

The program allows each student to receive personalized instruction, including lessons for learning whichever language they chose to study; it also allows Simon Linkowitz to record the hours in which students are logged into the program (they are required to reach 120) and gives her the ability to monitor their progress while assessing grades.

“Students do a lot of independent work within the program on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday,” Simon Linkowitz, the primary foreign language teacher at Menahga High School, said.

“Then on Wednesday we have world discussion and language day, in which we look at various cultural aspects of the languages being studied. Last week was fairytales of their chosen culture,” said Simon Linkowitz.

Simon Linkowitz has a bachelor’s degree in language teaching and a master’s degree in teaching second languages; both degrees were obtained from the University of Minnesota. She teaches the world language class for both Menahga and Sebeka high schools.

So far there has been little discord between students taking the class and the program they are using, Simon Linkowitz says.

The only major struggle has come from technology issues that surfaced at its implementation.

“(We initially) intended to run the class on the Ipads that students were issued this year, but the Rosetta Stone platform wasn’t supported by the Ipad we found out,” said Simon Linkowitz.

“So the class had to be moved to the technology lab. Now that all the kinks have been worked out everything has been running smooth. We haven’t had to cross any major hurdles yet. All students have been reaching their goals and I see them making progress,” said Simon Linkowitz.

The class is widely regarded as an overwhelming advancement when compared to the traditional foreign language programs offered in smaller schools, such as Menahga High School.

“Student and staff support has been steady all five years it’s been running,” Dan Stifter, principal of Menahga High School said.

“Some students just don’t want to learn Spanish. We want to give (our students) as many options as we can to further their education. Now, with this program, the only language we really wish we could offer and unfortunately don’t is Finnish. (Without the program) we would be stretched to offer even two languages,” said Stifter.

Superintendent Mary Klamm agrees with Stifter’s overall assessment of the class, program and student involvement.

“The whole purpose of bringing this to our school was to give students more opportunities and options,” said Klamm.

“This class gives students an opportunity that a smaller school like us doesn’t typically have,” said Klamm.

Two different course levels are offered within the same class. Students can begin at an introductory pace (level one) and continue to more intermediate teachings (level two) the following school year.

“So right in the same class they can begin to learn the basics of the language they chose and as they progress they also can become more fluent in it,” said Klamm.

At any educational level, a classroom can only be as successful as its students desire to be successful. After five years of program surveillance, the student body at Menahga has adopted the change with open arms. The evidence can be seen roaming down the halls.

“Some of the students will take the same language together and end up saying “hi” to each other or trying to have conversations (in the language they chose) in the halls, which I think is really cool and shows they are applying themselves,” said Klamm.

“The kids have had really great attendance and are making all of their milestones within the program; especially students who took the class the year before, they are sounding amazing,” said Simon Linkowitz.

Future enrollment and continued success is impossible to predict.

With fluctuating budgets and attendance levels, the foreign language program at Menahga could very well reform back to the traditionally applied format.

However, with the overwhelming benefit visibly apparent, the switch appears be permanent.

“There is a great benefit in a program like this. I see students’ passion every day in their learning,” said Simon Linkowitz.

“Two students I currently have are learning Latin because they have a great interest in archaeology. Some students studying Japanese really enjoy the Anime genre and Japanese culture, and so on. So they’re finding reasons why they want to study the language they chose. They’re finding different ways in which to connect what they are learning through the class to the real world outside and it helps them apply themselves even more,” said Simon Linkowitz.

“Students are realizing that more languages than just English need to be learned,” said Klamm.

Nick Longworth
A graduate from St. Cloud State University, Nick photographs and writes a variety of stories for nearly every section of The Park Rapids Enterprise. His duties also include section layouts and online content submission.
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