The Duluth School Board has approved an Ojibwe language immersion program to start next year at one of the district's elementary schools.
The initiative will start with one kindergarten class spending almost its entire day learning in Ojibwe from a licensed teacher and an assistant. The program will then expand each year by adding the next grade level.
It builds off a preschool Ojibwe immersion program sponsored by the University of Minnesota Duluth that has taught more than 40 students over the past three years.
Research shows bilingual education can help students of all cultures, program director Gordon Jourdain said. "They're able to think deeply about problem solving and all of the current situations that our students are faced with today."
Seventy schools across Minnesota have language immersion programs, mainly in Spanish, French and Chinese, according to the Minnesota Advocates for Immersion Network. This will be only the fifth in a Native American language. The program will cost the Duluth schools about $150,000 a year to administer.
"When you look at our Native American population group, we're seeing other populations grow, but this is an area that we're just not reaching out to," said Duluth school board member Annie Harala.
She said she hopes the program will eventually improve the Native American high school graduation rate in Duluth, which last year dropped to 33 percent.