Lee County Schools Launches "A World of Languages"

SANFORD, N.C. - Local students could enter middle school speaking Chinese or graduate high school with academic credit for Russian and Arabic when a new language initiative begins in Lee County schools this fall.

"A World of Languages" offers students, teachers and staff an opportunity to learn any of 25 languages - not just the few traditionally available in classroom courses - using Rosetta Stone, the world's leading language-learning software.

The Rosetta Stone project actually began in March, when middle schools began using the online version designed for classrooms. But beginning this fall, all students, teachers and staff at every school in the county can use the service at their own pace - 24 hours a day and for free.

It's a groundbreaking approach designed to open new opportunities for Lee County students.

"We live in a competitive world where success means working with people around the globe, not just people working in our area," says superintendent Jeff Moss. "Now, our students have a real competitive advantage."

That competitive advantage is obvious in the workplace, says Andy Bryan, associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction, with more companies than ever doing business worldwide.

But there are other advantages, as well. "Learning new languages and cultures enriches people's lives," Bryan explains, "and it will make our students even more competitive for college."

Millions of people in more than 150 countries use Rosetta Stone, and it has been adopted for use in countless major corporations, governmental agencies, universities and K-12 schools.

The approach immerses students in a language from the very beginning, using images to help students learn and think in the new language. It builds nouns and verbs into complete sentences and dialogue - in the same way people learn their first language.

Speech technology is incorporated, too, to prepare students for real-life conversations, and each lesson is designed to help learners strengthen skills in listening, speaking, reading and writing.

Rosetta Stone was created for academic settings. Syed Ahmed Mustafa, a regional director for education sales at Rosetta Stone, says the approach has been used by elementary and secondary schools for about two decades and is now in about 20,000 schools across the nation.

One thing placing Lee County Schools on the cutting edge of language instruction is how thoroughly language instruction is being integrated into the schools. Mustafa says it's the "broadest and deepest deployment we've done to date."

Another is the inspiration behind the effort. While other districts use Rosetta Stone for language and instruction, the Lee County Schools have a particularly insightful approach.

"How many are looking at it from an 'education equals economic development' angle?" he explains. "How many are going to graduate students speaking four languages? .... None today. That is what makes Lee a wonderful opportunity that others are going to follow."

A few details about the project are still being finalized. One of them, says Bryan, is how academic credit will be awarded. "It will happen," he says. "But, as you can imagine, there are hurdles for anything this new and innovative. We should have it all worked out very soon."

Bryan says many of these details will be announced at a rollout celebration being planned for later this month. The most important thing, he says, is that Lee County students, teachers and staff will soon be a model for the nation - and have opportunities that smaller school systems could never have offered before.