Roger Rowe Elementary not committed to foreign language

Editor’s Note: This letter is in response to the news reported in a Jan. 17, 2013 story titled “No current plans to bring Spanish back to RSF Elementary School.”

R. Roger Rowe School’s introduction of foreign language reads like an on again, off again relationship. In a world where two languages are often spoken, along with the growing demand to know a second language, it has become a necessity to function in our global economy. We cannot ignore the fact that an early introduction to a foreign language when a child’s brain is more open to linguistic development can benefit our children’s future.

We know introducing foreign language as an elective does not work, that is why it is a requirement in high school and colleges, not an elective. As far as our school conducting an elective survey, I do not doubt foreign language fell to the bottom. Foreign language cannot compete with other extra curricular activities, such as art, music and robotics that make learning a language not worth the time and effort.  We also found foreign language put on an elective wheel produced poor results.  So we tried another program that would give students a solid foundation and set them up for conversational Spanish and it was not workable given the age level, materials, and time commitment. By providing a half-hearted effort in foreign language speaks volumes to flawed program designs in the curriculum.  For example, implementing a middle school based Spanish (1a and 1b) curriculum meant for a (three-five days a week) program and retrofitting it to a (1-2 days a week) program for 5th and 6th graders over a two-year period may not have provided instruction with age appropriate goals and materials.

We need to continue to make the necessary modifications to make it better, rather than dropping it from our curriculum altogether. So, let’s change the goals to be more age, grade and level appropriate to foster good education. The key is to know what will benefit our children for the future and produce a basic understanding of what the next level of education is requiring. There is a spectrum of learning and foreign language should be introduced based on a continuum of goals by grade level. There are many types of programs available to elementary schools. They begin with exploratory programs that explore the language and the culture as a general concept where proficiency is not a goal — to total immersion programs working toward full fluency.  Something as simple as kindergartners learning a song in another language can enhance the understanding of a language as well as making it fun to learn. Hence, our school may not have to spend $220,000 annually or trim critical education programs to provide foreign language; just look how we introduced a school-wide philanthropy program by grade level with very little cost and effort.  We can look at elementary schools across the nation and abroad that are successfully achieving second language programs and be aware of some of the K-8 program pitfalls:

•Inadequate program design (The program type, goals, and percentage of class time spent per week need to be clearly defined by grade level)

•Setting unrealistic program goals (A total immersion program may prove too difficult to accomplish at the primary grade level and thought should be given to a partial immersion, Content-Based or Enrichment program options)

•Inappropriate teaching methodologies for young students (Like most core subjects it is critical to build knowledge and skills from grade to grade)

•Lack of coordination and materials across all levels of instruction (Programs must link to higher grades to build the long sequence of instruction with age appropriate materials)

•Lack of program evaluation and effectiveness (Teachers, parents, and students should all provide input on the effectiveness of the language program goals and desired results to make recommendations to achieve success)

In summary, foreign language must have the same status as a Core subject and should not be treated as an elective, but as a critical part of the curriculum in our children’s education. A steering committee made up of parents, foreign language teachers, classroom teachers and school administrators all working together to research, examine, explore and evaluate foreign language programs could help us determine the best model for our school.  This group could then provide the philosophy of the program and desired outcomes by grade level along with any additional costs and language choices. By working together anything is possible.

Lorraine Kent

Longtime resident and parent

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