Xperitas is dedicated to providing cultural and language immersion experiences that advance our mission, and for that reason we believe it is vital to show support for language programs and language teachers while advocating for study abroad programs. Language and intercultural skills are essential to navigating an increasingly complex and interconnected world, and without an educational focus on language and intercultural relations, our population will lack the global competency skills necessary for the United States to thrive into the next century. Unfortunately, for more than a decade, the United States has faced a shortage of teachers of critical languages and foreign language programs are disappearing at both the high school and university level. As Dan Hamilton and Stacie Nevadomski Berdan point out in their recent op-ed, the United States is on the brink of a national security crisis.
This year, we are working even harder to reverse some of the more troubling trends in language education. On February 19 and 20, Xperitas Executive Director Leslie Gale and Director of Language programs Jenny Behrens traveled to Washington, D.C., to join the Minnesota delegation at Language Advocacy Day, sponsored by the Joint National Committee for Language. Delegates gathered in the morning to strategize efficient ways to advocate. Later, the Minnesota delegation met with staffers for Minnesota’s U.S. Senators, Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, as well as U.S. Congress members Ilhan Omar (Jenny’s representative) and Dean Phillips (Leslie’s representative).
Informing many of our discussions was a recent report by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. This bipartisan-requested report, the most comprehensive report on the state of language learning in the United States, affirmed the criticalness of dual and multilingual professionals to the business, research and international relations activities of the United States and produced five key recommendations. The fifth recommendation is “to promote opportunities for students to learn languages in other countries by experiencing other cultures and immersing themselves in multilingual environments,” which is exactly what Xperitas programs offer for its participants.
During the meeting sessions with the offices of their elected officials, the Minnesota delegation advocated for three main bills that have been previously introduced to Congress and are likely to be considered in the current 116th session of the Congress:
- The World Language Advancement and Readiness Act (WLARA) - Would allow the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the Director of National Intelligence and the Secretary of Education to authorize three-year competitive grants to support local and state education agencies that want to establish, improve or expand innovative programs in world language learning to help address the huge gap in language proficiency that the DOD has identified.
- The Biliteracy Education Seal and Teaching ACT (BEST) – Would award two-year grants to states to establish or improve Seal of Biliteracy programs. Note: all but fifteen states have implemented the seal of biliteracy, and all Minnesota state schools give college credit to any student who obtains the seal in Minnesota. The seal is obtained in Minnesota by taking one of a couple different tests, including the IB and AP test.
- Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Program Act – Would establish a grant program to encourage the sustainable expansion of study abroad opportunities for undergraduate students in the US.
Xperitas team members hand-also delivered signed letters of support for these legislative proposals from teachers who attended our Global Leaders Conference in January. Upon her return, Leslie said to the staff, “We walked away from this experience feeling that Xperitas’ should continue to look for ways to support this advocacy work that is so directly related to our mission.” Not only did Leslie and Jenny feel like their voices were heard by our leaders in Washington, but they also found a renewed sense of dedication to the Xperitas mission of: “transforming lives through shared global experiences and intercultural learning.”
As an organization, and as individuals, we will to continue to look at ways to increase our effectiveness as advocates for language and intercultural education. We also hope that reading about our experience at Language Advocacy Day inspires you to join us to advocate for language education and intercultural opportunities for all students. Can we count on you to join us next year for Language Advocacy Day 2020?