Award-winning language teaching team made up of Blugolds

| Judy Berthiaume

The middle and high school teachers who make up the Chippewa Falls world language department share a passion for languages and for collaboration.

Seven of the eight members of the teaching team also have one more thing in common that contributes to their success as language educators — they all are Blugolds.

The most experienced of the Blugold teachers graduated nearly 20 years ago, while the newest member of the Chippewa Falls team earned her degree just a few months ago in December 2015.

“UW-Eau Claire has a very strong and growing languages program so our graduates are finding many opportunities to teach in schools across Wisconsin and beyond,” says Dr. Carter Smith, chair of the university's languages department. “Still, it’s impressive to see so many Blugolds teaching in one school district’s languages department.”

The Chippewa Falls languages team has experienced great success in recent years thanks to the teachers’ commitment to collaboration and their strong language curriculum.

While the teachers are in different buildings, teach different languages and teach varying levels of their language, they still function as a team.

“Learning to work as part of a team is one of the skills that employers in all fields, including education, tell us they value in their employees,” Smith says. “Our languages faculty do a great job of helping students develop these kinds of skills so it’s rewarding to see our graduates collaborate in this way once they’re working in the real world.”

At the high school level in Chippewa Falls, Kris Kolinski teaches Spanish and chairs the world language department, while Angie Oplinger (Blugold, 1999) and Lisa Zondlo (Blugold, 2014) teach Spanish. Emily Lamusga (Blugold, 2015) teaches both Spanish and French, and Michele Nuttelman (Blugold, 2006) teaches French while also serving as curriculum assistant.

In Chippewa Falls’ middle school, Rachel Arendt (Blugold, 2008) teaches Spanish and also chairs the world language department, while Katy Wolner (Blugold, 2012) teaches Spanish and Brianna Hemauer (Blugold, 2011) teaches French.

While the teachers are succeeding because of their collaborative and innovative approach to educating their students, they also are quick to give credit to the faculty and staff who guided them during their years at UW-Eau Claire.

“There are so many educators who have influenced my teaching over the years and I definitely carry their ideas, their passion and their drive every single day when teaching my own students,” Hemauer says of the influence the UW-Eau Claire languages faculty has had on her career.

Oplinger says she clearly remembers learning about varied reading strategies and thematic units while in the teacher education program.

“Now, over 15 years later, these are still a major focus of curriculum development and lesson planning,” Oplinger says. “I feel like the foreign language education program at UWEC provided an excellent foundation for my teaching.”

The Chippewa Falls team has had so much success that teachers and administrators from several surrounding school districts have visited the schools to observe the language classes to see firsthand the strategies that are working so well there.

In fall 2015 the Chippewa Falls team presented two sessions at the Wisconsin Association of Foreign Language Teachers Conference.

Kolinski and Oplinger presented a session called “Comprehensibility + Compelling Texts = Engaged Readers.” They shared strategies and samples of texts in which they are able to stay in the target language and peak the students’ interest in Levels 2-5.

Nuttelman, Hemauer, Arendt and Wolner presented “Comprehensible Input: Maximizing Target Language in Levels 1 and 2.”

The second session was nominated as “Best of Wisconsin,” which means the teachers will present it again at the 2017 Central States Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.

“It is such an honor to be recognized by the WAFLT executive board as the Best of Wisconsin for 2016,” Hemauer sys. “This is a huge accomplishment for our department and our district as we have all worked very hard over the past few years to create curriculum in which we truly believe.”

UW-Eau Claire’s department of languages offers a variety of majors, minors, certificates and courses in 11 different languages taught by faculty from nine countries.

While many students who graduate with degrees in languages go into teaching, many others put their language skills to use in all sorts of professional fields.

“In a world where roughly 5.4 billion people do not speak English, studying an additional language creates many possibilities,” Smith says. “Studying a second language will increase students’ ability to communicate with people from diverse cultures, which will create more personal and professional opportunities for them.”

Photo caption: Front row, from left: Brianna Hemauer, Katy Wolner, Emily Lamusga. Back row, from left: Angie Oplinger, Rachel Arendt, Lisa Zondlo, Michele Nuttelman.