Greg Nedved interviews Brandon Locke, Director of World Languages and Immersion Programs for the Anchorage School District.
Locke has also written about the Alaska Native History Curriculum. See the article here.
The text below is automatically generated from the captions in the video. Any errors are the fault of the editors, not the speakers.
Morning, Brandon, can you hear me OK?
Yeah, I can.
Morning, thank you for this opportunity to interview you.
I’m Greg Nedved. I’m the president of the National Museum of Language. So first of all, and it’s one of – for people that will be looking at this recording later on. I just want to just make a basic announcement. You know, you’re Brandon Locke and you are the Director of World Languages, an immersion program for the Anchorage School District, Anchorage, Alaska. And among the things that you’re involved with, all of them, very impressive. Impressive is your supporting dual language immersion programs in multiple languages, which in cultural preservation for indigenous peoples. The StarTalk project, you’re involved in regional and national language advocacy activities, and you also are one of our language leadership council representatives.You are the representative from the state of Alaska. I guess we’ll just start from the top. Can you tell us about your foreign language background?
Sure. Well, my own background, I was a French student. I started learning French back in seventh grade. Studied it throughout high school and college. I was a high school exchange student in Switzerland. During college, which I technically graduated from the University of Alaska, Anchorage, but I spent a significant amount of time studying at Laval University in Quebec City, Canada. So, I lived in Quebec for quite a while and then and then returned to Anchorage and did my student teaching. And I became a French teacher, and then I taught middle school French and high school French for about ten years and then I left the teaching arena, and I went into administration, and I was a middle school assistant principal and then an elementary principal, and I did that for about seven years and then I and then my current position came open about nine years ago. And so, I’ve been in this in this role since then. So, my, you know, my personal background was just studying French and then teaching French. I also have been connected with the Concordia language villages in Minnesota for about 23 years now. And that is a language and culture immersion summer camp for kids. And I was a staff member at Lac du Bois, the French village, for two years, and then I became the dean, which is the director of the program. I did that for six years and then I took a little hiatus for two years and then I returned. And I’m still involved in professional development for teachers. So not staff of the language villages, but we offer a Master’s in Education for anyone really that wants to come in world language instruction. But the unique piece about this program is that the students in the program have access to the language villages where they go and watch the – watch, participate, observe you name it – with aspects of what’s happening in the language villages.
OK. You’re working on your doctorate, the focus. And if you don’t mind telling us, why are you focusing on that particular area?
Sure. So really, the focus of my dissertation is indigenous language revitalization in urban settings and its perceptions about that through, you know, it’s an ethnographic study with, you know, comments and such from stakeholders throughout the not only the city of Anchorage, but also other folks outside lawmakers, people that that make political decisions and then potentially get funding for… So, one of our one of our Senators in D.C., Lisa Murkowski was one of the folks that was very, very instrumental in getting congressional funding to start not our program, but the grant that we that we, that we were awarded.
OK, great. Let’s talk about the StarTalk initiative because you’re involved with that in Alaska, how did you get involved with that. Was that Dr. Murray contacting you directly?
I have two different camps that I’m in with StarTalk or was in with StarTalk. Every year, it’s every year. It’s a new adventure because you have to apply for a grant, and you know. So, my first involvement was actually through the language villages I mentioned to you that I was – I’m a faculty member with their master’s program, but, before that, I was their StarTalk director, so and that was a yearly thing again, depending on if we were awarded the grant. But, because of the uniqueness of the program of Concordia language villages where we offer languages like Korean, Chinese, Portuguese, Arabic, Chinese, Russian I, we would write grants to host teachers and do teacher professional development in those critical languages with the access to the language villages and seeing those programs in person. And so that turned into – that was that we created a graduate level course called Second Language Immersion Methodologies, and that was a StarTalk-funded course for many years in actually in the past couple of years we weren’t funded and I’m not quite sure why. But simultaneously we were doing Chinese immersion through StarTalk here in Anchorage because we had – we have a school that is now our Mandarin Chinese immersion school. But before that, the school had a FLES program and FLES is – it stands for Foreign Language in the Elementary School, but it’s basically a like a pullout. So, like, you know, Mrs. Jones’s class goes to art on these days and gym on these days and library here and Chinese here. And it’s really just like a quick 30-minute – and we use the StarTalk program to help really build momentum and build a repertoire with materials and such to help us build our Chinese immersion program. And so now and that that’s been, you know, we’ve been doing that for gosh, I want to say eleven years now. Did our last one last this past summer and it’s worked because our we are up to grade five right now in immersion and those kids are going to be transitioned to middle school next year.
OK, great. Let’s talk then about our Museum – you’re a state liaison and what – you know, what attracted you to this position?
Serving as state liaison for the National Museum of Language, to be honest with you, I didn’t know that the museum existed, and Laura reached out to me, and I mean, she knew me through StarTalk. And so, she told me about this and asked if I would be willing to do it, and I said yes. You know, Alaska’s a huge, huge state geographically, but population wise, pretty small. And I’m the only person in the state that has a job like I do, like there’s no other school district that has a director of world languages. And I don’t know if you’re familiar with the NCSSFL, but the NCSSFL is the Association of State Supervisors of World Languages, and we do not have one of those in our Department of Education in Alaska. So, by default, I kind of do that role. And so, I’m kind of like the, the go-to language guy, if you will, for Alaska, and so just that connection plus or excuse me, that that sort of role plus my connection with Laura led me to this.
Well, what do you think should be the proper role of the language museum? How can it best serve the greater community out there?
Well, I think that the role of the museum really needs to encompass the first people, the people that were here long before the colonists came. And that includes, you know, the many, many indigenous languages of what people like me call the lower 48, as well as Alaska and Hawaii. And then we have to look at the, you know, obviously English. But then, you know, there were there were waves of immigrants, you know, early on with the Germans and the Scandinavians and the Irish. And in recent years, you know, folks from Asia and Africa. And so really, there’s no one language and nobody ever insinuated that. But my point being that we’ve got we’ve got a really rich history of language and culture in what we call the United States today. And so, I think that the role really needs to – of the museum – really needs to document and highlight those different arenas. You know, the indigenous group, the colonist group, the immigrants that have come in over time and really highlight that the vast, vast language arena that exists here.
Well, I can tell you that language preservation, things like that are very important to us. While we’re on the topic of the United States. what do you think the country does well in terms of language? You know, what does it do?
Well, language wise and then what does it not do so well, language wise, but. What it does well is there are funding opportunities that exist, but they’re all most of them are grants. And so, if you’re trying to start or enhance a language program, typically you have to go outside of your very own like district or state school district that is or state to try to get funding, so that you can offer something. And it’s kind of a double-edged sword because you know, I’m very, very proud of our Yup’ik program and what we’ve been able to do, but the documentation and the paperwork is out of control. It’s it is so much work to show that we’re making progress with these kids in this program that I can tell you, we’re making progress with these kids in this program because it’s amazing. But our society, overall, I don’t think values languages. You know, you go to any other country in the world, and people speak multiple languages, and it’s just a part of life. And so, you know, we may as an individual or as a collective group, say, yeah, I mean, yeah, of course it’s important to be bilingual or multilingual, but we don’t put money where our mouth is. It’s tiring to try to defend the importance of speaking another language in this country. And by that, I don’t mean the people that, you know, may , that come to the country or that we’re here but have a different first language and are learning English. I’m talking about the mainstream monolingual English speakers that don’t see the value in learning another language.
You’re next to Canada. They’re not specifically British Columbia, the Yukon Territory, et cetera. What are the Canadians doing differently, language wise from the Americans?
Well, Canada is officially a bilingual country. And so, and that’s actually where immersion started. So, the whole purpose. Well, what we know as immersion education today came from Canada in the 196 and it was Nova.
I did not know that.
Yup. And it was strategically developed to cross pollinate the two languages. So, you know, the vast majority of the French speaking Canadians live in the province of Quebec, which is on the East Coast. But there are pockets in Manitoba, Manitoba and in Eastern Territory provinces like Nova Scotia, New Brunswick. But the vast majority of Canadians speak English. And so, you know, Ontario all the way to the West is predominantly English speaking, but they have a lot of French immersion programs and, same with in Quebec, Quebec has English immersion programs. And so, the immersion programs that we have in the U.S. are really, truly modeled after the Canadian model.
But, you know, I’m not familiar with other immersion programs in Canada, but they’re their whole goal with immersion was really just to. Provide that linguistic educational opportunity for their entire population to speak both of their official languages. Canada is also similar to the United States, a country with a lot of indigenous peoples, and just like in the United States, it’s also relatively new in having those languages become revitalized. And a lot of that work is grassroots effort by the indigenous peoples, and I say that for both countries. And the unique thing about the indigenous languages is that there are pockets like in Alaska like, you know, the language doesn’t stop at the border. There are indigenous folks that that are that speak a specific language, and those languages cross over between Alaska and the Yukon Territory, for example, or between British Columbia and Washington state.
Let’s talk about Alaska. You know what you’re most familiar with. What’s the biggest problem facing Alaska language students and instructors, in your opinion?
Well, first of all, there’s a huge teacher shortage in this country – teachers in general. There’s also a huge language teacher shortage in this country. And then you, intensify that even more by trying to entice people to move to Alaska. I’m from here. Alaska is where I live, I mean, really, if you if you superimpose if you put the state of Alaska on top of the United States, it goes from the top of North Dakota all the way down to Texas.
It’s yeah, it’s huge.
And so that’s, you know, when people say, well, what’s the weather like there? Well, that’s like saying, Well, what’s the weather like in the United States? I mean, Florida has much different weather. The North Dakota people don’t realize that. And so, when you’re trying to convince somebody to move here, that’s never been here before, they, I think, typically think of barren terrain people living in igloos, you know, moose and bear. And that’s not what this is all about. I mean, in I mean, even in Fairbanks and Juneau, but in Anchorage, we’re a big city. Our district has about 50,000 students and we have over 100 home language spoken by our student population. But then in our district, you know, we teach we have I have seven languages in eight immersion programs. And then in addition to that, we have the traditional non immersion. Language programs, French, German, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, ASL and then, to make it even more unique, you know, with all of the ELL students in the state as well as the languages that we’re teaching, we have, like I said earlier, 23 official indigenous languages. And that’s the hard part because just because they’re an official language doesn’t mean that there is a plethora of speakers of that language. And so, and not all of the languages are written. And so, it’s a really hard thing to do when you want to be equal and equitable across the board with the different indigenous groups. But how do you tell somebody? Well, there’s not very many speakers of your language, so that’s not really important. But Yup-ik has a lot more, so that’s where we’re that’s where we’re focusing. That’s a that’s a tough thing to say. But the reality is we can’t do justice to every language that’s here. We just can’t. I mean, it’s impossible.
You don’t have the same resources. You know, if there’s no dictionaries, no books, no, you know, no language, it’s going to be very difficult. Exactly. Exactly to be impossible.
OK. You may have covered this already because you were talking about the language of Alaska. What are the top five languages?
I can’t say for the entire state. But in the Anchorage school district, after English and Spanish, the top languages that are spoken by our students are – and I’ll just tell you the top five, I don’t I’m not sure exactly which one. I don’t know what the numbers are right. OK, so Samoan. Hmong, Filipino or Tagalog, Yup’ic and Korean.
OK. Samoan, and I think it’s a little surprising, at least to me, Hmong, I think, as Southeast Asia. Samoan, this is a surprise to me a little bit.
We have a lot of Samoans, a lot of Samoans and a lot of Pacific Islanders that live here. Yeah. And what’s fascinating about it is that they often still dress as they would if they were in the South Pacific. And, you know, temperature wise is it’s an interesting thing to see. But yes, and I’m not quite sure why what the draw is. But yes, we have a very large South Pacific Islander population here.
OK. Are teachers and I know the answer to this already teachers in Alaska, how are they in terms of pay with the other ranking them with the other states? I’m going to assume teachers in Alaska and of course, this includes language teachers get paid more than teachers in other states simply because of the location.
Well, that used to be the case for Anchorage, that’s not the case anymore, I think teachers in Anchorage are still paid well, but not well enough. I mean, they definitely teachers across the board deserve more money. But yeah, but teachers outside of Anchorage out in what’s called Bush Alaska or the villages, a lot of times they are paid well, but and many times often are provided housing. But when you go to the grocery store to buy a gallon of milk, it costs $7. Right? I mean, the cost of things are, you know, you go to a place like Costco and you get a 24 pack of bottles of water for two 99. Well, it’s $23 in Barrow. I mean, it’s just insane. And so. So yeah, you might be earning more, but you’re also spending more.
OK, Brandon, we’ve covered all the questions that I have at this point. You know, is there anything you want to bring up that I haven’t asked you – anything you feel that needs to be said anything, anything you want to add?
I think I’m good. I appreciate this opportunity. And I think the museum is a really unique entity. And I’ve enjoyed participating thus far, and I think it’s really cool. It’s really exciting to see liaisons from across the country. And I just think it’s a really great thing to bring people together to talk about, celebrate, you know, endorse the different languages that make up this country.
Thank you very much, Brandon. Good meeting you. Thank you for your work with the museum. And best of luck. Best of luck with your, you know, on your doctorate.
You have a great day. Thank you so much.
All right. Bye bye. OK, bye.