Sejong Academy balances the immersion needs of students depending on their skill level. “Some parents want more Korean instruction while some other parents are concerned about their students getting grade level instruction in English,” remarked Sejong Academy Executive Director Brad Tipka. “I believe this is a challenge that will continue and we will work to make sure students are learning content in English and Korean.”
By TESHA M. CHRISTENSEN
Sixty-two students in grades kindergarten to sixth are immersed in Korean language and culture at the new Sejong Academy at 1330 Blair Ave. N.
Executive Director Brad Tipka, who was hired in September, knows that not all of the students at Sejong Academy will use Korean language professionally, “but I believe immersion education goes well beyond the potential use of the target language.”
He added, “I dream that our students will be responsible and culturally understanding global citizens. We have a very diverse student body and staff, and I believe being able to work in a diverse environment is a critical life skill for all students.”
Tipka grew up in a small Minnesota farming town and then headed overseas for eight years. He met and married his wife in Indonesia. “Without a desire to understand people from diverse backgrounds, none of this would have been possible for me,” observed Tipka.
During his time overseas, Tipka lived and taught in Korea for five years and developed a strong love for the language and culture. He said, “I believe that Korea as a country and Korean as a language represent strong opportunities for students in Minnesota.
“What I saw in Korea and what stands out for me about Korean people is a dedication to family, education, hard work and persistence – these are all great qualities to instill in our students!”
CHALLENGES FOR IMMERSION SCHOOLS
Sejong Academy Executive Director Brad Tipka
A public, tuition-free, Korean immersion charter school, Sejong Academy plans to add seventh grade classes in next year and eighth grade classes in 2016.
After opening in September 2014, Sejong scaled back its immersion program from full to partial. “As a startup immersion school, our upper grade level students do not have the Korean language fluency to comprehend grade level content in Korean,” Tipka noted. “Ideally, as we mature we will have large groups of students whose Korean language proficiency will allow them to study higher level grade level content in Korean.” He added that this is a common problem with immersion programs.
“Some parents want more Korean instruction while some other parents are concerned about their students getting grade level instruction in English,” remarked Tipka. “I believe this is a challenge that will continue and we will work to make sure students are learning content in English and Korean.”
Through the Sejong Home Connect program, staff works to make sure all families have home access to the internet and online school programs, including break or gap programs that offer extended learning time.
KAREN STUDENTS LEARNING KOREAN
The school did receive some criticism in September for the large number of Karen students enrolled there. The Karen (pronounced Ka-REN) are an ethnic group from the mountainous border regions of Burma (Myanmar) and Thailand, where they are the second largest ethnic group in each country. There are approximately 6,500 Karen living in Minnesota with an additional 500 refugees from other ethnic groups in Burma. St. Paul currently has the largest and fastest-growing Karen populations in the U.S. The Karen people speak a variety of languages, none of which include Korean.
Tipka noted that the Karen immigrants are being taught intensive English at the school along with Korean language classes.
Sejong Academy is also offering Saturday enrichment courses, and has provided home-based instruction because the need for more English is strong, according to Tipka. “While we do have a few new-to-country Karen students who speak very little English, many of our Karen students are approaching fluency in English, as well,” Tipka pointed out. “There is a huge range and differentiation in the classroom is one of our critical professional development topics this academic year.”
STUDENTS ENJOY CLOSE COMMUNITY
Overall, Tipka says that comments from parents about what their children are learning at Sejong has been extremely positive. The school hosted a Chuseok Festival (a Korean holiday similar to Thanksgiving) after only being open for three weeks. Students gave short speeches in Korean and sang Korean songs, impressing their parents.
Grace Lee, a second-generation Korean American born and raised in Texas, serves as Sejong Academy board chair. Her third grader and sixth grader attend Sejong. “They enjoy the close school community, because they get to make friends with everyone,” Lee observed. “They also enjoy learning Korean. Lastly, through some of the blended learning opportunities, they are able to progress at an accelerated rate.”
A local police officer visited the third and fourth grade class as they learned about people in the community.
She added, “My dream is that this school will partner with the community and families to provide our students with a top-notch education, exposing them to the beautiful diversity and opportunities in our world; so that each student would dream big – not only for his/herself, but for his/her family, community and the world. I hope that our school would equip each student to realize these dreams and that each student would become socially responsible global citizens in the process.”
Lee pointed out that South Korea is Minnesota’s sixth-largest export market, up from 14th just one decade ago. South Korea, which offers economic opportunities for Minnesota manufactured goods and for agriculture and service exporters, is a source of growing demand and was the location of the first trade mission of Governor Dayton’s in 2011. South Korea will host the 2018 Winter Olympics.
“I know firsthand how many opportunities there are for students who can speak Korean to work professionally with Korea,” noted Tipka. “Also, there are many opportunities in Minnesota, such as studying Korean at the U of M, or even testing out of having to take a foreign language in university, that will benefit our students.”
The school recently started a Futsal League (a version of soccer) with the Friends School.
“We are committed to doing whatever it takes to help our students, and their families, achieve their dreams,” said Tipka. “Whether that includes visiting homes to show families how to access the local library, providing home computers for families, adding Saturday school enrichment programs and maximizing our daily classroom instruction, we are confident that the school is moving forward with a great educational program and building solid connections to the community.”
Learn more at http://www.sejongacademy.org.