Richland-based language program struggles financially during COVID-19 outbreak

Bon Voyage
RICHLAND, Wash. — After overcoming a financial hit just months ago, a Richland language-learning program for K-12 students is once again struggling to stay afloat during the COVID-19 crisis.

“We lost about half of our students,” said Elizabeth Porter, director of curriculum, instruction, and international programs at Bon Voyage World Languages Academy.

Bon Voyage was started out of Porter’s home in 2013. The nonprofit offers online classes that students can take through their school — if offered — or independently. The academy also has an immersion program that offers multi-week trips to France.

In the spring, $50,000 was stolen from the organization by a former employee, almost forcing the program to shut down. Now, they’re experiencing another setback.

“We are contracted with hundreds of public schools, but those schools are not open and a lot of them would not allow their students to continue with us online,” said Porter.

Porter was in Fort Worth, Texas, in early March at an education conference, scheduled to speak the following day when it was announced that the conference would be cancelled early. That’s when things started to unravel.

“I normally travel through the spring and summer for speaking engagements,” she said. “Basically my whole travel season is cancelled, and we had to cancel our immersion programs.”

They thought they would still do okay because the program already utilizes remote learning, but with schools they partner with shut down, they’ve lost a significant source of income.

Now, Porter is turning their focus toward two main objectives: helping students out of school stay on track and helping educators transition to a new way of teaching.

“We’ve had a tremendous number of teachers coming to us saying, ‘How do I do this? How do I teach online?’” she said. “We’ve been really trying hard to get what we have done for four years at Bon Voyage into the hands of teachers, schools, and administrators.”

Porter has been holding webinars and is currently offering 30-minute coaching sessions for teachers at no cost. She also suggested that interested educators subscribe to their mailing list, join Languages with the Five Senses Teachers group on Facebook and find more resources on their website.

For students who may have had their Spring semester of language classes cut short, she’s starting a special class that will begin May 4 and last through August.

“It’s really sad, a lot of them are high school students that need the credit,” she said. “We’re going to work hard to make sure they catch up.”

They also still plan to hold their regular Summer session of classes and Fall session of classes. All immersion programs have been pushed back to 2021.

Regardless of efforts to continue the program, the nonprofit has lost income. They’re currently holding a fundraiser so that they can afford to continue offering classes and training for teachers.

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