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W&L to Host Three Virginia Governor's Language Academies

Following the success of this summer’s Virginia Governor’s French Academy at Washington and Lee University, Dick Kuettner, coordinator of the program, has announced that W&L has been selected to host three such “full-immersion” language academies in French, German and Spanish simultaneously for the next five years.

“We are all very excited at the prospect of having the very best foreign language students in the state of Virginia on our campus for the next five summers,” said Dean of the College Hank Dobin. “And we’re very grateful to Dick Kuettner for all of his work to bring the Governor’s Academies to W&L.”

Kuettner, a professor in the romance languages department and director of the Tucker Multimedia Center, said he was inspired to bring the residential full-immersion academies to W&L by his desire to promote languages, saying “Languages need to be brought to the forefront in these days of global community development. Without language, how can there be understanding? Without understanding, how can there be progress?”

This summer’s three-week French academy used almost every non-academic department at W&L and brought 60 students on campus. It also elicited a visit from a representative of the Virginia Department of Education who conducted interviews of students, faculty and staff. “I think this summer’s academy went extremely smoothly,” said Kuettner. “And I can’t believe how favorable the responses were from the individuals who attended.”

One attendee described the facilities as “absolutely fabulous. No complaints, only praise.” Another reported that “the host university was without fault, accommodating beyond any expectation, seriously.” Dining services received its share of praise, with the assessment of “excellent overall dining experience this summer.” And the lodging “exceeded by far my expectations. It was excellent, spacious, clean and beautiful,” said another attendee.

One innovation that students appreciated was W&L’s creation of the academy website, which gave students a full introduction to the academy and also posted a blog as events unfolded. The website and a link to the blog can be found at http://frenchacademy.wlu.edu/

Kuettner stated that although the proposal for hosting three language academies was submitted before this summer’s French academy, he said he thought the positive evaluations given to the Virginia Department of Education had an influence on W&L being selected to host three academies instead of just one.

Kuettner has already started the planning process for next summer’s academies. “With the French academy we only had two and a half months to get everything done,” he said. “Now we have almost a full year, which is a nice relief. And I think we’ll need all that time to make sure everything goes smoothly from the beginning. But it should be easier in the future because now we know just what is involved.”

The French, German and Spanish academies will involve a total of 165 students and 33 teachers and staff visiting W&L. The Germans will lodge in Gaines Hall, the Spanish in Woods Creek and the French will return to the sorority houses they occupied this summer.

The students are mostly high school seniors, with some juniors, and are recommended to attend the academies by their high school teachers through a highly selective process. “These are the top language students from all over the Commonwealth,” said Kuettner. “The aim is to improve their oral and written communication skills in a particular language. I would describe the academies as a mind-expanding experience through language training, discovery of historical and cultural events and international living. Students will also receive demonstrations of linguistic, musical, artistic and culinary talents by students, faculty and staff.”

Kuettner explained that although each academy will be different and their cultural activities will vary because of the different countries and languages, he plans to include two major activities that will involve all three academies. “It’s a reenactment of the Global Village through rituals, communications and interaction among academies,” he said.

The first multicultural experience will be a Grand Ball, after students receive instruction in the dances of their target country (a normal part of the curriculum). “At the Grand Ball, students will have to speak the language of their academy, so they’ll have to learn to communicate with each other using maybe their hands or facial expressions. That will make it more interesting for them,” said Kuettner.

The other major multicultural activity will be three days of soccer competition between the academies during the last week. But instead of a soccer World Cup, Kuettner said he plans to create a soccer Full Immersion Cup (FIC). “It will be “Le FIC,” “El FIC” or “Der FIC,” he explained. “It’s an event where all the languages can intermingle. We’ll finish up with an international parade honoring the FIC winner and maybe a barbeque outside.”

“We’re very excited about being selected to have these academies at Washington and Lee,” he added. “It’s been some time since we’ve had an academic program that brings high school students to W&L and everybody is very supportive of it.”

The Governor’s Foreign Language Academies were originated in 1986 by the Virginia Board of Education with the aim of providing an exemplary experience in foreign language education. Beginning with a French Academy, the program expanded over the years to include Governor’s Foreign Language Academies in Asian Studies, German, Latin, Russian Studies and Spanish.