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Foreign Language School Opening in Whitefish
Academy’s founders are seeking public input
Suzanne Dickenson, left, talks over curriculum with Italian instructor Caitlin Caltabiano at the Glacier Academy of Languages open house in the Foursquare Church in Whitefish. - Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon
WHITEFISH – In preparation for a February opening, the founders of the Glacier Academy of Languages are seeking public input as they establish the curriculum at Whitefish’s new foreign language immersion school.

Jean Amidon and Catherine Owens held a Nov. 29 sneak preview of the school at its Whitefish Foursquare Church location to introduce the community to the academy’s instructors and the facility.

The school’s two founders also used the event as an opportunity to gather suggestions as they more specifically formulate a curriculum and schedule. They will hold another open house on Jan. 24 to present their updated curriculum and then hit the ground running when they open on Feb. 4.

Owens said it’s clear that the community has been waiting for a foreign language school.

“The response has been great,” she said. “People come up and tell us, ‘You fill a void.”

As of last week, the Glacier Academy of Languages already had six instructors onboard, not including Owens and Amidon, to teach four languages: Spanish, French, Italian and Russian. More languages could be on the way. The school is currently looking for somebody who can teach Mandarin.

Owens and Amidon said they saw a need for an immersion language school in Whitefish, one that could appeal to many different ages and levels. They say Whitefish is rich in culture for a small town and offers a diverse array of educational opportunities, but not much for language. Amidon said children should begin learning foreign languages at a young age.

“Languages aren’t really offered until high school and that’s really too late,” she said.

Though Owens and Amidon might not have some details worked out, they do have their philosophy fully articulated. They believe in teaching through immersion, where classes are taught in the language being learned, though some English will be spoken. The idea is to eliminate translation – as in “cat” equals “gato” – and instead just teach “gato” with a visual reference.

Through this method, students have no choice but to fully immerse themselves in the language, as suggested by the term “immersion.” Classes will be interactive, hands-on and highly visual. And they’ll be fun.

“We recognize that they’re coming here after eight hours of school already,” Owens said. “We want it to be something they can look forward to.”

Owens and Amidon, who both speak Spanish, have seen firsthand the effectiveness of immersion, with Amidon saying she was impressed by how quickly her kids picked up Spanish at an immersion school. She added that the method also touches on cultural themes.

Children's books in assorted languages - including Dr. Seuss in French - are seen on a table during the Glacier Academy of Languages open house in Whitefish. - Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon


“The whole idea behind immersion is that we’re not just teaching language,” she said.

Children aren’t the only targeted demographic. The school is open to all ages and will offer travel language classes in which people preparing for a trip out of the country can brush up on their language skills or learn enough rudimentary basics to get them around on vacation.

Classes will require a $25 registration fee and cost $120 per eight-class session, which is $15 per hour. The first session will last from Feb. 4 to March 25 of 2013, followed by a session from April 8 to May 27. Full-immersion summer camps will then be offered, with regular class sessions starting back up in September.

Kindergarten through fifth grade will be taught at Whitefish Christian Academy and other classes will be at Whitefish Foursquare Church.

In a globalized world where second languages are highly valued in many jobs, Amidon said learning a foreign language is becoming increasingly important.

“That’s what our country needs to do,” she said. “That’s what our community needs to do.”

For more information on the Glacier Academy of Languages, including how to offer feedback, visit www.glacieracademyoflanguages.com.
 
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