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No current plans to bring Spanish back to Rancho Santa Fe Elementary School

By Karen Billing

For now, the Rancho Santa Fe School District will not be bringing back Spanish at the elementary school level. The board looked at the issue as a discussion item at its Jan. 10 meeting.

RSF School District Superintendent Lindy Delaney said that in order for K-6 Spanish to be truly successful, they would need to offer it five days a week. Not only would that carry funding implications (an estimated $220,000 annually), but it would mean something else would need to get trimmed to make room in the schedule for students.

“The biggest issue is what would we cut out? We are already so full.” Delaney said. “We’d love to do everything and do it really well but I think we’ve reached our limitation to what we can put into a day.”

Delaney walked the board through a history of the elementary school Spanish program throughout the years.

Prior to 1997, Spanish was offered in middle school only but when the RSF Endowment was established, then-Superintendent R. Roger Rowe pushed for Spanish to be provided to grades K-6.

In 1998, students K-6 were in Spanish three times a week for 30 minutes.

“It was fun and great but there was not a lot of carryover for students moving onto middle school,” Delaney said.

They had hoped the program would give students a solid foundation and set them up for conversational Spanish but it did not do what it was intended to do, Delaney said.

She said students would often lose what they learned over the summer.

In 2001, Spanish was reduced to just two times a week and from 2002-04 it went down to one day a week for 45 minutes.

In 2004-06, Spanish was not offered at all for K-6 but was brought back in 2007-10 as an elective class for fifth and sixth grade students. For the elective, students took Spanish three times a week for 45 minutes, but could not take any other elective for the year. At its peak in 2009-10, there were 14 students in fifth grade “Spanish 1A” and 20 students in sixth grade “Spanish 1B,” but those numbers dropped to seven students in fifth grade and eight students in sixth grade by the following year.

There is only so much room in the school day and Delaney said she wouldn’t want to make a half-hearted effort just to say they provide Spanish. Delaney said she would want it to be a five-day a week program, done properly so it made sense for student learning.

Additionally, Delaney referenced a 6-8th grade parent survey the district conducted in 2009 that showed art and science at the top of parent elective preferences and Spanish placing at the bottom.

Since 2010, Spanish and Mandarin were offered in before- and after-school parent-paid programs. Mandarin is in place but Spanish did not get enough response to form a class. Last year some sixth grade students interested in pursuing Spanish participated in a lunchtime club.

In the middle school, Spanish numbers have dwindled since peak years in 2005 and 2006. This year there is one class of 30 students in “Spanish 1,” and 13 students in a “Spanish 2” class.

Delaney said she thought that adding an enrichment block to the schedule that allowed Spanish students to opt for rocketry, robotics, music or art electives in addition to Spanish would boost enrollment but the numbers went down instead.

She thinks one of the reasons the numbers are down is that there are just more choices in high school and students are opting to instead start fresh with languages such as sign language, German or Mandarin.