By NICK GRABBE
Saturday, May 1, 2010
AMHERST - The elementary schools will start teaching Spanish to all students in the early grades for about 40 minutes a week next fall.
Additionally, the School Committee will work with administrators to develop a policy that will expand this amount of exposure to Spanish through sixth grade over the next three years.
Next year's budget includes 1.5 positions for elementary Spanish instruction, and it will involve kindergarten through first or second grade, said Maria Geryk, the interim superintendent. Research shows that language instruction works best when begun early, and a gradual rollout of a program is most effective, she said.
"We're working to honor the competing demands we have for students and the promises we made to taxpayers in the override and to staff in restoring positions," she told the committee Tuesday.
Member Steve Rivkin said the Spanish program is consistent with the school district's goal of social justice. Amherst has high per-pupil spending even after the cutbacks of the past year, and can afford to undertake this program, he said.
Member Catherine Sanderson said she would have liked to see Spanish instruction in all grades next fall. Defending the 40 minutes per week, she said there are benefits of studying language beyond fluency.
"Teaching language helps children learn about different cultures, and thereby helps increase empathy and understanding for those from other cultures and backgrounds," she said.
Sanderson said the introduction of world language into the elementary schools has been discussed for a decade, after being eliminated after the 1992-93 year. The passage of the override March 23 gave the schools the money needed, she said.
Geryk said that even if the schools had lots of money, a gradual expansion of the Spanish program would work be preferred.
Sanderson will join School Committee Chairman Irv Rhodes and Sean Smith, head of the foreign language department, in an effort to develop a policy to introduce K-6 Spanish instruction by the 2013-14 school year.
"If we're going to do it, I'd like to do it well," Smith said.
The only elementary foreign language instruction is the grant-supported Chinese program at Wildwood School, which will end this year.
Note: Just one correction to this story: the recommendation of the administration is to have more intensive Spanish than 40 minutes a week (1 1/2 hours a week). According to Sean Smith, head of world languages, this amount of exposure K to 6 (as the program is scaled up) will allow students who want to continue taking Spanish in the middle school to be a year ahead.
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.