October 10, 2012 - Oxford Superintendent Dr. William Skilling said they were "very surprised and honored" after being presented the "Educational Program of the Year Award" for its Fifth Core World Language Culture Program at Automation Alley's 12 annual Awards Gala held at the GM Heritage Center in Troy.
From left, are Colleen Schultz, School Board president; Mr. Yao Xugyang, Beijing channel consulting; Dr. Skilling, superintendent; Carol Mitchell, School Board Vice President; and Dr. James Schwarz, assistant superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction. (click for larger version)
"We were told there were 60 applicants for the award and then to be competing in the finals against two local universities, we didn't think we'd be the winners," Skilling said. "We were very grateful and honored to be a finalist."
Oakland University was a finalist with its new medical school and Wayne State University with its Blackstone Launch Program.
"When we were announced the winner we were overjoyed with excitement and very honored that we were recognized," continued Skilling.
Dr. James Schwarz, assistant superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction called it "a wonderful validation of accomplishment."
"We're very proud to have gotten to the point where we're educating over 2200 students in the program currently and growing, he said. "It's a good testament to the work we've done thus far with that program."
Skilling said the Fifth Core is an "umbrella name" for a lot of what they do in global education, with World Language and Culture as one of the foundations. Students begin their eleven year world language program starting in Kindergarten, where they can choose between Spanish and Mandarin Chinese.
"We feel it is essential that every student is fluent in a world language upon graduation because of the global market we're all working in," he said. "Even though we may think we're working in Oxford Michigan, we may very well be working for a company or a business that is doing global work or global business or competing against companies globally."
The reason for those two language choices is because the three closest trading partners with the United States are Canada, China, and Mexico. According to Skilling, there are over 800 international businesses in Oakland County, many of which are from China, Mexico, or other Spanish speaking countries, as well as Germany.
"We're just trying to give our kids a competitive edge by knowing a world language," he said.
Part of that competitive edge is not only knowing and understanding and being fluent in the language itself, but understanding the culture from which the language derives from," Skilling used himself as an example.
"We do a lot of work in China. I am too old to learn the language and become fluent in that language, but I'm not too old become fluent in the culture," he said. "Just being fluent in a culture, even if you don't know the language really gives you an advantage in being able to develop relationships and partnerships that can be mutually beneficial."
Another way they bring world cultures to their students is by hiring international teachers whose first language is not English.
"That's really helped to give our kids a much wider perspective on global issues and understanding," added Skilling.
Other pieces of their Fifth Core include their International Baccalaureate program. Their school in China, which opened last year and hope to have another one next year, and their residential school for international students, which Skilling says only has Chinese students in it, but are planning on taking students from Mexico next year.
"(Bringing students from other countries) also gives them (our students) an opportunity to be a member of a project based team in which there are kids there from other countries, because that is going to be a necessary skill as well," he said. "Being able to be part of a team in a work environment, in which the team is comprised of individuals who speak different languages and (come from) different cultural backgrounds."
Communications Coordinator Linda Lewis said the award is an honor they share with every employee.
"We want to congratulate the entire staff on its commitment and focus," she said.
Schwarz said the World Language program is certainly one they expect to grow, not only in terms of the number of students in the program, but the impact it has on them as they approach the working world.
"They will be much more able to compete with their peers for high profile jobs in the business world, certainly with the experience they've had of learning a language he said. "It's really setting them up for future successes that they will benefit greatly from, we believe."
Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.