LONGMONT — They’re minting money at Longs Peak Middle School.
And the shy kid who masterminded the design — one complete with a fine-print, anti-counterfitting mark — is talking.
His handiwork, after all, is legal tender at the school and a part of The Year of Languages, a yearlong celebration of languages in schools nationwide.
YOL came out of a 2003 Senate Resolution to promote language learning in the United States.
According to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, learning a second language enriches mental development, improves understanding of one’s native language, opens a portal to other cultures, prepares students for college language requirements and increases job opportunities.
The Central Intelligence Agency, for example, is desperate for applicants fluent in Pashto, the language of the Taliban.
During World War II, bilingual Native Americans landed select jobs in the military as Navajo code talkers by using language spoken only in the American Southwest to outwit the Japanese military.
Given the growth of global transactions, big business also needs employees who speak multiple languages.
But only 6.3 percent of U.S. residents are bilingual, according to Worldwatch Institute, a social policy research organization in Washington, D.C. Worldwide, the institute reports 66 percent of children speak two or more languages.
Last summer, the Colorado Board of Education adopted the Senate resolution. Schools such as Longs Peak Middle School have participated through various activities.
For instance, eighth-grader Steven Ruppert, 13, is the school’s literal moneymaker. He designed the YOL currency now distributed at the school and used Google to translate the numbers of the bill designs — ones, fives, 10s, 20s and 50s — into 10 different languages on the face by the number.
Teachers now dole out the pseudo-dollars to reward students for YOL participation.
Student projects range from creating a YOL poster to acing the YOL quiz read during morning announcements to stringing Ojos de Dios — mini “god’s eyes.”
These art projects of yarn woven between sticks replicate the larger-scale Mexican symbol of good fortune and health, according Kathy Sargent, a foreign language teacher and YOL coordinator at Longs Peak Middle School.
Sargent has always tried to put her students in the mood to learn other languages and cultures. She gives Spanish class students a new Spanish equivalent name, such as Maria for Mary. That helps them shed inhibitions about speaking and learning, Sargent explained.
She also took 11 students to Costa Rica over spring break for an immersion experience.
But she hopes to drum up far more language awareness through YOL activities throughout the 2004-05 school year.
Kari Goodrich, 12, participated by creating a poster to describe the Spanish word for ice cream, “helado.” The sixth-grader cut strips of brown cardboard for the cone and drew a plaid design with black and brown markers. Then, she pasted a pink calico fabric on top for the ice cream and topped it with polyfill for the whipped cream and a red pompom for the maraschino cherry.
Her creation now hangs above the librarian’s desk, along with other posters designed to look like a word in a foreign language.
Other YOL projects prompt students to write essays on cultural similarities and differences.
“We’re learning about how it’s OK to be different, to act or look different, if you’re from somewhere else,” Goodrich said.
Eighth-grader Liz Glaser, 14, said YOL activities help her understand that literal translations of a word do not always carry the same meaning.
“(In Hispanic cultures) you can only be considered an ‘amigo’ if you’re best friends,” she said. “But here, I do a lot of different stuff with a lot of different people I call ‘friend.’”
Sam Hafner, a 13-year-old eighth-grader who chairs the YOL decorating committee, said community seems a lot stronger in other parts of the world because it is often scaled down.
He said he’s been thinking about how millions of other people shop little corner stores and eat at locally owned and operated restaurants — which is different from his Longmont world of supermarkets and chain restaurants.
Sargent said adults get culturally nearsighted, too, and language can be a bridge to other places.
That said, she hopes YOL both bridges those distances and ultimately shortens them.
“If everyone spoke a foreign language, the world would not be so divided,” she said.
Pam Mellskog can be reached at
303-684-5224, or by e-mail at
CIA “first language” speaker estimates
Estimates issued by the Central Intelligence Agency in 2000 reflect a global population of 6.1 billion. These are the top 10 languages spoken:
• Chinese, Mandarin 14.37 percent (874 million)
• Hindi 6.02 percent (366 million)
• English 5.61 percent (341 million)
• Spanish 5.59 percent (339 million)
• Bengali 3.4 percent (207 million)
• Portuguese 2.75 percent (167 million)
• Russian 2.63 percent (160 million)
• Japanese 2.06 percent (125 million)
• German 1.64 percent (100 million)
• Korean 1.28 percent (78 million)
• French 1.27 percent (77 million)
— Source: CIA World Factbook