ST. CLOUD — Move over, Spanish and French. St. Cloud public schools next year will be offering Somali and Ojibwe, making them available to all students as an elective language.
“It just makes sense for us to have it,” said Lori Posch, executive director of learning and teaching for St. Cloud schools. “We want to see our students represented in our courses.”
The move comes after the St. Cloud school district this fall introduced what is thought to be the first native Somali language course in the state — and possibly the nation — for secondary students.
Some students who are immigrants or refugees have limited or interrupted formal education. The native Somali course is meant to bolster writing skills in those students’ native language and, at the same time, build school skills and other language skills.
“Somali for native speakers was designed for students who didn’t have a lot of English,” Posch said. “Somali as a world language will be more of an introduction to kids that maybe hear parents speaking it — but to be honest, we have a lot of interest already from our non-Somali community in taking that class as a world language.”
About 60% of the nearly 9,700 students in St. Cloud schools are students of color. That’s a drastic change from a decade ago, when about one in four students were students of color.
About 41% of St. Cloud students are Black and 25% of students speak Somali as their primary language at home.
On Dec. 1, the school board approved adding Somali I and Ojibwe I to its world languages curriculum, joining the ranks of French, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese and American Sign Language.
Both Somali and Ojibwe will be introductory courses. If there’s enough interest, the district will add more advanced courses in the coming years. Students who become proficient in a world language could then be awarded a Minnesota bilingual or multilingual seal, which can earn them college credits.
The district selected Ojibwe because a few other Minnesota schools already have established curriculum, according to Lacey Lokken, American Indian education and equity programs supervisor for the district.
“It will be open to all students to register, but we sure hope that we are able to have some of our Indigenous students enroll,” Lokken said. “Our Native students are from a variety of different tribal nations inside Minnesota and outside, so [Ojibwe is] not necessarily every student’s native language.”
If there’s interest, the district could add Dakota to the language curriculum some day, Lokken said.
The district also offers full Spanish and Chinese immersion programs and is exploring adding a dual Somali-English program for kindergartners.
“Our hope by doing a dual immersion program is that we have both Somali- and non-Somali-speaking students in it so they will be learning and building up their native language — whether that’s English or Somali — and build another language,” Posch said.
The district is also looking to offer Somali language courses for adults through its community education programming.
“I love that we are on the forefront of doing what’s best for our students. I think that’s one thing our district does really well: We look at the assets that our students bring us and we build off of those,” Posch said. “Our district is blessed with our diversity and this is a chance for us to really recognize that diversity and help us be better stewards of our skills and better community members and neighbors.”