Wednesday, February 1, 2012

District to expand languages program

Three-year plan being developed to involve more students


By TERRY SMITH
Express Staff Writer

Don Nurge. Patricia McLean, Paul Bates

The Blaine County School District announced last week that it is developing a three-year plan to extend foreign language studies to more students.

However, officials noted that increased classroom time in foreign language studies will necessitate less classroom time in some other subject. Further, the district is not planning at this time to bring additional languages into the curriculum and intends to focus primarily on Spanish and French.

The announcement came at special meeting of the school board on Thursday, Jan. 26. More than a dozen interested community members attended to hear tentative plans from district Director of Curriculum Patricia McLean and to offer their own opinions as to what the plan should involve.

McLean advised the group that bringing additional languages into the curriculum, such as Arabic and Chinese, may not be realistic. In an interview later, she told the Idaho Mountain Express that the focus will be Spanish and French, and that consideration will have to be given as to whether Latin and German, currently offered as high school electives, will be continued.

She said the primary purpose of the plan will be to make foreign language studies available to more students.

Currently the school district has three different programs for language studies. The Dual Immersion program, in which students, starting in kindergarten, receive instruction half in English and half in Spanish, is now in its 11th year, with the original class of students now enrolled as high school sophomores.

The district also offers high school electives in Spanish, French, German and Latin.

Third, the district also has English-as-a-second-language classes for students who are not proficient in that language.

McLean said at the meeting that the first emphasis of the new plan will be to extend foreign language electives to Wood River Middle School students. Later, foreign language studies may be offered to students K-5.

Though the district is developing a three-year plan, Superintendent Lonnie Barber said part of the plan may be implemented as early as next year.

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'I don't want anyone to think that we're going to wait three years to start," Barber said. "We're trying to move to where every student in the middle school has a required language class."

In her presentation, McLean offered several reasons why increased foreign language studies are desired by the district. First, she noted that students who learn a foreign language typically score higher on college entrance exams or achievement tests than students who haven't learned a foreign language.

"Learning a new language benefits academic progress in other subjects," McLean said, because students tend to develop a "higher order of abstract thinking. Math and verbal SAT scores climb higher with each additional year of foreign language."

She also noted that learning a foreign language makes students more competitive and able to thrive in an international climate and teaches students about the cultures of other countries.

She noted that Idaho currently has no requirement for high school language studies, unlike the state of Washington, which requires two years of foreign language studies before a student can be admitted into a state university.

McLean said the two biggest obstacles in expanding the district's languages program are deciding what subjects to cut back on because of the expansion and finding qualified language teachers.

Members of the school board seemed agreeable to development of the plan. Trustee Paul Bates noted that implementation of the plan will "give more opportunity to more students."

Board Vice Chair Don Nurge said, "We recognize language as being important to all students."

"But it's not as easy as just writing a few sentences," Nurge said. "I think we will come up with a good program in the end. It may not satisfy everyone, but our goal is to satisfy the most we can."

Terry Smith: tsmith@mtexpress.com




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