By: Bonnie Peterson
I don’t scare easily. I’ve been skydiving, extensively traveled the world alone, and taught junior high and high school French for 17 years. From a lifetime of facing my fears, I thought that I could do anything. Then, I applied for and was hired as our district’s World Languages Supervisor, and I was terrified.
The weeks leading up to my first day on the job were filled with panic attacks and one big question: “What have I done?” I was armed only with a bachelor’s degree, some classroom experience, and big ideas on what our language program could become if we focused on proficiency rather than vocabulary lists and grammar conjugation.
At the same time, Gregg Roberts was also starting his new position as our state’s World Languages Specialist. Gregg introduced me to NADSFL – The National Association of District Supervisors of Foreign Languages, and suggested that I join and attend their annual conference. Additionally, he allocated funds from his budget to get me there when my district refused to cover the cost.
Through NADSFL, I found educators who were equally passionate about ensuring teachers have the support they need to flourish and that students gain the cultural and linguistic skills they need to become global citizens. Each of the members became my mentors – answering countless questions, taking my panicked phone calls, sharing what had and hadn’t worked for them, and most importantly, cheering me on when the going got tough.
At the time, I worked with the Davis School District. We had been teaching languages in our secondary schools, but the year I started in my new role we introduced a dual language immersion (DLI) program in two elementary schools. Two years later, the state of Utah began its statewide initiative to offer DLI to as many students as possible throughout the state.
Our DLI program quickly grew from two elementary schools offering DLI Spanish, to 12 elementary schools offering DLI Chinese, Spanish, and French. Eventually, as the students got older, we added 11 junior high schools, and nine of our 10 high schools.
Navigating the implementation of an extensive DLI program would have been enough of a challenge; I knew we needed to have two viable pathways to proficiency, and this meant that our secondary programs needed to move away from focusing on textbook driven instruction focusing on grammar to a model that fostered language acquisition and was backed by proficiency data.
Turning to my colleagues at NADSFL for guidance, our district was soon able to begin offering week-long proficiency training to all of our language teachers. NADSFL members in California introduced me to Dr. Duarte Silva and Darrel Nicholaisen of the California World Language Project. NADSFL even offered me a grant to make reading more of a focus in our secondary programs and allowed me to train our teachers about the important role of reading in language acquisition.
As a NADSFL member and district supervisor of a large and growing Chinese DLI program, I was able to join key members of the National Council of State Supervisors for Languages (NCSSFL) on annual trips to China to hire teachers for the nation’s growing Chinese programs.
It was at the NADSFL conference that I was first introduced to Avant Assessment and proficiency testing. Avant Assessment sponsored our conference annually and offered a short presentation on their STAMP proficiency tests. While I was interested in proficiency testing for our students and understood the benefits such testing could provide, our budget was meager.
Then, in 2012, I had the opportunity to share my idea that if students could demonstrate intermediate-mid or higher proficiency, they would pass the AP test with my NADSFL colleague David Jahner. He reminded me that the AP test was a performance exam (based on a curriculum) but, he also shared my hunch though we had no research to demonstrate it. Once I was able to demonstrate the value of data-driven instruction in the world language classroom, Davis School district leaders supported annual testing of more and more of our students.
My years of association with the members of NADSFL were years of personal and professional challenges and growth, filled with collegiality, support, and success. Since retiring from public education in 2018 and joining Avant, there are many things I miss including the teachers I worked with, and the students I watched grow and become global citizens. At the top of the list of things I miss most is the association of the wonderful group of educators who make up NADSFL.