There has been a lot of discussion about world language on my blog of late, so I want to share some information I've gathered on this topic.
First, about 15 percent of public elementary schools in the United States currently, offer foreign language, compared to 51 percent of private elementary schools.
Here are descriptions of two such programs - one a local private school (the Smith College Campus School) and one at a public school that is, like Amherst, part of the Minority Student Achievement Network (Princeton Regional Schools).
Smith College Campus School Description - The Spanish curriculum at the Campus School is designed to help students develop confidence and beginning skills in Spanish. The program also provides an opportunity for students to experience the intellectual pleasure that can come from the study of a foreign language. Children in grades three through six participate in the Spanish program. The program begins with oral language study designed to help children develop an “ear” for the sounds of Spanish. Students learn common phrases and essential vocabulary through classroom conversations, drama, role-playing, games, and singing. In the fifth and sixth grade students continue building oral language skills, begin work with written Spanish, and are introduced formally to the grammatical structure of the language.
The Spanish curriculum includes opportunities to learn about some aspects of Spanish and Latino history and culture. Students are introduced to art and literature from Spanish speaking countries, learn a variety of traditional and contemporary songs, and are introduced to native speakers through both visitors and pen pals. In addition, the content of the Spanish curriculum is integrated with the school’s social studies program through the study of the “geography” of the Spanish language, medieval Spain, the history of the Americas, and the ways in which immigrants from Spanish speaking countries are currently influencing our language and our culture.
Princeton Regional Schools (Princeton, NJ) Description - The Princeton Regional Schools World Languages Program has been designated as a K-12 model program. For the last eight years, PRS world languages has been a model program, first for its K-8 program and now for its K - 12 program. With this designation for 2010-2012, we are the only district to receive K-12 model program recognition in the State. All our students begin Spanish instruction in Kindergarten, in 6th grade either continue with Spanish or begin French and in the high school continue with Spanish and French and begin Latin, Italian, Japanese or Chinese.
In the 21st century the ability to communicate in more than one language will be a necessity. The World Languages program in the Princeton Regional Schools focuses on preparing students to communicate in a culturally appropriate way with speakers of other languages. To realize that goal the district offers both long, articulated sequences of world language instruction and a variety of languages from which to choose. Our program reflects the latest research in world language learning and best practices in instruction. The Standards based curriculum moves students along the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines in the spoken languages. As students progress through the program they not only learn to communicate in one or more world languages but they also gain knowledge and understanding of other cultures as they connect with other disciplines and learn 21st century skills. In Kindergarten through 2nd grade, classes meet four days each week for 15 minutes per class. In 3rd to 5th grade - classes meet four days each week for 30 minutes per class.
Second, the issue of adding world languages to the Amherst Elementary Schools is NOT new! In 2002, a group of parents requested Spanish and gathered over 200 signatures, but world language was not added. A few years later, a pilot Chinese program was added at Wildwood, with the express intention of then adding world language to the other schools. In 2008, a group of teachers and administrators in the Amherst Regional Schools studied the issue of adding world language K to 6, and specifically recommended adding a Wildwood-type program to the other three schools (Fort River and Crocker Farm were to receive Spanish, and Marks Meadow was to receive Chinese). This report was shelved, with the departure of Jere Hochman.
Although this type of program would be more intensive than the one I've proposed, and thus lead to greater fluency, it is much more expensive in terms of time and money (it would require 3 full time teachers per school, compared to just 1 teacher per school). I believe that we should move to 1 teacher per school as of this fall, which could then be used as a pilot to see how this addition of a once a week Spanish into the specials rotation worked. If the principals and teachers were able to find a way to increase exposure to Spanish (in terms of the school day as well as hiring an additional 6 teachers), that could happen in the future -- but if we wait to be able to fund 9 K to 6 world language teachers, we are going to be waiting a long time (e.g., we've been discussing adding elementary world language for 8 years already).
Does this mean that world language is the ONLY thing we should change in our elementary schools? No. But we are making good progress already on other initiatives, including conducting an outside review of the K to 5 math program (results due this spring), increasing horizontal and vertical alignment of all curriculum, and examining effective models of providing intervention support to struggling students (including the addition of a preschool class for low income kids as well as an afterschool program and a summer program for struggling students). In addition, I plan to introduce the topic of elementary science review at the next Amherst School Committee meeting. Adding an introduction to K to 6 Spanish would be just one of the ways in which we could help engage and challenge all students, and increase feelings of community in our schools.
My Goal in Blogging
I started this blog in May of 2008, shortly after my election to the School Committee, because I believed it was very important to both provide the community with an opportunity to share their thoughts with me about our schools and to provide me with an opportunity for me to ask questions and share my thoughts and reasoning. I have found the conversation generated on my blog to be extremely helpful to me in learning community views on many issues. I appreciate the many people who have taken the time to share their views. I believe it is critical to the quality of our public schools to have a public discussion of our community priorities, concerns and aspirations.