Anthony Edwards / Staff Photo
Gov. Peter Shumlin, center, speaks with Middlebury Interactive Languages CEO Jane Swift, left, and Middlebury College President Ronald Liebowitz at an event Monday announcing a partnership.
MIDDLEBURY — A joint business and education venture is expected to bring more jobs to the state and more foreign language instruction to classrooms.
On Tuesday, Gov. Peter Shumlin visited the new headquarters of Middlebury Interactive Languages to celebrate the company’s growth and unveil the Vermont World Languages Initiative.
“This is a really great partnership for Vermont,” Shumlin said of the collaboration between Middlebury College and Middlebury Interactive, a for-profit venture between the college and K12 Inc., a Virginia-based company that is the country’s largest digital education provider.
Middlebury Interactive is offering its services to the state’s middle and high schools at a deep discount, said company CEO Jane Swift.
“As someone who is moving her three daughters to the state next year, I am excited about this as both a businessperson and as a parent,” said Swift, a former Massachusetts lieutenant governor and acting governor.
Launched in 2010, Middlebury Interactive offers online language classes in Chinese, French, German, Latin and Spanish, with 21st-century education innovations such as video conversations with native speakers and 3-D role-playing games in which students act as servers in a café setting.
Middlebury Interactive offers unlimited-use licenses to schools for $25,000 a year but is discounting that price to $6,000 for the first 30 schools that apply. Middlebury College is donating the money to pay for the content and professional development for teachers.
“Over the past century, the Middlebury College Language Schools have transformed the way adults learn languages,” said college President Ronald Liebowitz. “Today, Middlebury Interactive is doing the same for K-12 students, and we want to ensure that Vermont students benefit from Middlebury’s proven approach to language learning and cultural understanding.”
Shumlin said he viewed the program as both positive and necessary.
“Our future workforce is going to have to be skilled in these fields,” Shumlin said of science, technology and secondary languages. “Our employers have great, high-paying jobs, but they can’t find enough graduates who are fluent in these skills, including speaking a foreign language.”
Middlebury Interactive is an example of just such an employer. Since opening in 2010, it has tripled its workforce from seven to 22 Vermont-based employees and expects to double in size by 2015. Right now, Middlebury Interactive is seeking a Web developer, a social media specialist and a technical support representative, with all positions requiring technical skills.
Swift said the demand for multilingual employees is similar, and Middlebury Interactive is offering something both valuable and affordable.
“Not many schools can afford to offer five languages. Some can’t afford to offer one,” Swift said. “We’re in a global world, and in order to remain competitive we need to be able to communicate with other cultures.”
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