Three Middlebury Language Schools to Move from California to Vermont

By GIGI HOGAN

Middlebury will welcome all of its language schools back to Vermont next summer. Beginning with the 2020 summer session, Bennington College will host the three schools that are currently held in Oakland, Calif., joining the eight schools that are already held on the Middlebury campus.

President Laurie L. Patton and Bennington College President Mariko Silver announced the agreement last Wednesday on the Bennington campus.

“Middlebury and Bennington really are sister institutions and this is a great opportunity for higher-ed in Vermont,” Silver said at the signing event. “What we want here truly is a partnership. It is not a transactional relationship.”

Dean of Language Schools Steve Snyder said that the college selected Bennington, after surveying many Vermont institutions, for its excellent facilities, isolated environment and its goals and values, which align with those of Middlebury. 

Bennington granted language schools exclusive use of its campus during the summer session. This is critical, as it provides an environment free from “language pollution,” and allows students to deeply engage with the curriculum and language pledge. 

Middlebury’s language schools currently offer 11 programs, three of which have been housed in Oakland at Mills College for the last decade. The language schools educate about 1,500 students each summer, ranging in age from 17 to 70 and coming from all over the world.

Snyder said the directors of each school came together to identify some new goals during a recent strategic planning process as part of the“Envisioning Middlebury” framework. Curricular innovation, faculty professional development, research in language pedagogy and digital learning were among the top priorities they identified.

These new objectives required that all the Language School faculty and directors be in one place and able to meet before and after the summer session. 

“To have one-third of the faculty located in California was preventing us from achieving some of our major strategic goals,” Snyder said.

The college is planning to create time at the beginning of the summer to bring in experts from around the world to hold a workshop for faculty professional development and curricular innovation.

The expansion to California in 2009 was an effort to accommodate a growing population of Language School students in Middlebury, and in recent years about 300 students each summer have studied Arabic, Italian and Korean at Mills. The schools also hoped that students at the Monterey Institute would enroll in the provided language courses, though the idea didn’t catch on in the way they anticipated.

“In the end it was a very marginal number of students (from the Institute) that actually attended the Language Schools.”

Snyder praised Mills as a wonderful institutional partner, even as they have experienced challenges of their own in recent years. The increasing number of English-speaking summer programs on their campus, combined with the operational difficulty of travel between the two locations, were some of the factors in the decision to relocate the schools to Vermont. 

This new proximity will allow a cooperative and interconnected relationship between Bennington and Middlebury, as first demonstrated in the co-signing ceremony attended by the colleges’ presidents. 

“We are hoping to create a broad relationship where the faculty exchanges, where Bennington students are able to attend the Language Schools more easily and we begin to think about various areas where we can cooperate across the institution,” Snyder said. 

Snyder foresees only a few challenges that may accompany this upcoming transition, primarily concerning the demanding use of the Bennington campus over the summer and the residential problems that often arise when hosting such a diverse group of students. 

“These are things we are used to handling and we will work with Bennington to manage what may arise,” Snyder said. 

It has not yet been decided which schools Bennington will host. The remaining schools will stay at Middlebury.

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Three Middlebury Language Schools to Move from California to Vermont