Immersion and the Shift to Junior High

Like many parents who enroll their children in an elementary language immersion program, I had (and still have) high hopes that my children will continue the program in junior high. I’m very impressed with the Utah state model, which is designed to have students spend one-half of their days in the target language (grades 1-6) and then take language classes in junior high, with students taking the AP test in 9th grade. The current plan is that in grades 10-12 students will be able to take college classes (perhaps via some type of distance education) and be just a couple of classes short of receiving a minor in the target language. See more details on the Utah model.

Originally Utah planned that junior high students would take two classes in their target language – a language class and history taught in the target language. The plans have morphed somewhat, and their current approach is that in 7th and 8th students will take an honors immersion language course, and, if desired, a repeatable one-semester culture and media course, and then an AP course in 9th grade.

A few months before my oldest daughter was about to enter 7th grade, the Provo school district held a meeting for parents to talk about the transition from 6th to 7th grade. One of the biggest challenges was that typically 7th grade students in the Provo students only get 1.5 electives. So if a student wanted to take Honors Chinese plus one Chinese Culture and Media course, it would eat up all of her electives. Many parents were concerned because they hoped their children could take band/orchestra/choir/dance/art/etc. This was a major issue and the district determined that it would need to take some time to figure out how to resolve it.

In my view, the solution the district came up with was brilliant. They found a way to be flexible and let each student tailor his/her own “best schedule.” There are several classes that traditionally most seventh graders in the Provo School District have taken (e.g., health, PE, art, etc.). The district allowed parents to select which traditionally required classes (if any) that they wanted their students to opt out of, and which electives they wanted their child to take. In our case, my daughter chose to opt out of Art, Health, PE and Utah history. That allowed her to take 1.5 credits of Chinese, plus orchestra, social dance, and creative writing.

Many districts will be shifting into junior high immersion over the next few years. In my opinion it would be advantageous for parents and junior high / district administrators to meet together well before the school year starts and look carefully at the requirements for 7th graders and how to be flexible with students who want to continue their language studies and also take full-year electives, such as choir.

Update, based on Joani’s comment. My understanding (based on discussions with two districts, but I could be wrong) is that because 7th grade does not count towards graduation that districts have flexibility in what they actually require. While parents could have their child enroll in an online health class, or something like that, it is not required for graduation.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized on by .

About John Hilton III

John Hilton III was born in San Francisco and grew up in Seattle. He served a mission in Denver, and got a Bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University. While there he met his wife Lani and they have six children. They have lived in Boise, Boston, Miami, Mexico, Jerusalem and China. Currently, they live in Utah. John has a Masters degree from Harvard and a Ph.D from BYU, both in Education. John is a Professor of Religious Education at BYU. John has published several books with Deseret Book, and enjoys speaking with Especially for Youth, Education Week, and many other organizations. His education research has influenced policy both in the United States and internationally. John loves being with his family, doing humanitarian work, learning Chinese, and performing magic.

5 thoughts on “Immersion and the Shift to Junior High

  1. kami

    great post! way to go,John Hilton! and Provo School District for making carefully considered accommodations for your students! I wish things were going that well here in the Canyons District!

  2. Joani Stevens

    I appreciate your input on navigating the transition into Junior High. Just to clarify, are students who have opted out of required classes still expected to fulfill the requirements for each subject (health, PE, Utah History)?

  3. Daisy

    Sadly, up here in Weber School District, our students are only receiving one course in Honors Chinese and will not be taking AP Chinese until 10th grade. This is well short of what we were promised when the students entered immersion Chinese in 1st grade. Hopefully they will retain what they have learned well enough to complete the program and take concurrent enrollment classes in 11th and 12th grades.

  4. Bethany Jones

    Thanks for your proactiveness to ensure our DI students get the most out of our education system after elementary school. As a parent with eventually 4 kids committed to the program, I’m thankful for the road you are paving ahead of us! A sincere thanks to you and others involved!

  5. Angie

    I would like to know if there is anyone out there with their 6th grade in an intermediate setting and what that looks like. Also, how do you handle your chinese classes that are taught in core subjects like math and science? Our school offers Honors science in 6th and Honors math in 7th grade but will the math taught in chinese be an Honors math? thanks Angie


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s