From: : Dr. Scott Hannon
Winona Area Public Schools
As a young boy growing up in Winona, I was frequently aware of occasional language differences of some of my friend’s parents, or their grandparents. Often, as I entered the Peplinski home on Johnson Street, I would be greeted in Polish by my friend’s dad with “Jak sie masz?” Or, how are you? And, because I spent many an evening in their kitchen playing cards or listening to baseball games on the radio, I would often hear when I arrived, “Dobry Wieczór!” Or, good evening!
It wasn’t just at my wonderful neighbor’s I would hear a different language uttered, but at other places in Winona. On occasion, I would bike downtown to Neuman’s Grocery on Second Street to buy Yankee Clipper cigar clippings (something I couldn’t do at age 10 today) for my grandfather. At Neuman’s, I might be greeted by, “Was möchten Sie?” (What do you want?) Or, some other question growled in a language I didn’t understand from one of the old timers sitting in the back.
Even in my own family, my father would occasionally speak something in Belgian. Then he would go on to say “Well you know, your grandparents had to know three languages when they lived in Belgium because in the south they spoke French (Walloon), and in the north it was Dutch (Flemish), and in the east, German.” “Oh man,” I thought, “don’t get me so confused!”
As Winona grew in its early years, it was a melting pot of languages and cultures and religions. In the late 1800s, people poured into Winona and the surrounding area to farm, work in the lumber mills and foundries, and most importantly, to become citizens, Americans. They knew that through hard work and having their children receive an American education they could, and would succeed in their new found home. The many languages spoken by first generation immigrants coming to Winona slowly melted away with each new generation.
If we fast forward to today, we find a Winona with at least 32 local businesses doing trade and commerce with foreign countries. There are nearly 30 different languages spoken by parents of Winona Area Public School students. We also find a growing population in Southeastern Minnesota of immigrants, bringing with them their languages and cultures. According to data collected by Project FINE, there are estimated to be several thousand immigrants and refugees living in Winona County. This year alone, nearly a dozen immigrants have been sworn in as new American citizens in Winona County.
Because our Winona world is becoming smaller through our changing population, technology, high speed travel, and global trade, WAPS is considering expanding its foreign language offering into the elementary level. According to research, studies suggest that students receive the following benefits from early language learning: increased creativity and problem solving skills; improved performance on basic skills and the SAT tests; enhanced skills in English; among other learning improvements.
Research also indicates that learning a second language is continuing to grow in importance and is a valuable skill for an employee to have in the world of business (Mann, A., Brassell, M., & Bevan, D.,2011): International businesses prefer to hire people who speak more than one language; knowing one or more foreign languages may give you an edge when competing for an important position; opportunities abroad will continue to grow; being able to communicate in another language will make you more marketable with companies doing business internationally; and being able to communicate with people in their language also demonstrates that you have some knowledge regarding the culture and rituals of those people.
WAPS realizes that learning a foreign language isn’t for every student. Preliminary planning and discussion suggests that the program will be relatively small, offered at one school, and of little additional cost to the district.
WAPS would like to hear from the Winona community your thoughts through a short survey that can be found at: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/inputcommunity. The input received from this survey will help us in our planning. If you do not have Internet access at home, you may use a computer at one of our schools, or at the Winona Public Library. Thank you for your consideration!