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Foreign language classes proposed for middle schools

January 18, 2000|By BRUCE HAMILTON

Middle school students may soon be able to take foreign language classes if the Washington County Board of Education approves a staff proposal.

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All the county's high schools offer at least one foreign language and some offer several. But local middle schools quit offering those classes in the 1980s, according to Foreign Language Coordinator Larry Steinly.

Washington County is the only Maryland county west of the Chesapeake Bay that does not offer a foreign language in middle school, he said.

Director of Curriculum Frank Finan and Steinly Tuesday presented the School Board with a plan to add classes gradually. At first, the courses would be available only at schools that volunteer and students who choose to take them.

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"We're going to try to phase it in without the addition of staff, which will be somewhat of a challenge," said Finan.

Foreign language teachers would fill vacant positions, he said. They would replace only technology education, art, music, family and consumer science or related arts teachers at schools that have two such teachers when one of those teachers resigns, transfers or receives a promotion.

It could, therefore, take several years for the program to be fully implemented.

"We must sit and wait, once you approve this, to see what evolves," said Finan.

"No one is going to lose their position because of this program," he said. "I am adamant about that."

The only cost would be for textbooks, and they are included in a $500,000 line item of the School Board's annual budget.

In sixth grade, students would take an exploratory course introducing them to various languages using a new book, "Invitation to Language."

In seventh and eighth grade, they would take a class equivalent to half a freshman course and would use current high school textbooks.

Advanced Placement courses in high school require four previous years of language. Finan said a year's worth in middle school would enable more students to take an AP course.

The only students currently eligible for AP courses are those who attend high schools with four period days and therefore would have an opportunity to take an extra language course, according to Finan.

The School Board welcomed the proposal but members questioned how it work, specifically its connection with high school courses.

Board member Doris J. Nipps asked what would happen if a student takes a language in middle school but cannot continue in high school. "That's where my concern is," she said.

Finan said that isn't likely, since middle schools would offer only those languages available in the high schools they feed. Hancock Middle/Senior High School offers Spanish only so its younger students could not take other languages.

Williamsport High School offers French, Latin, Spanish and German, so Springfield Middle School could offer those classes also. The curriculum is up to each middle school, depending on its students.

He proposed a sample schedule that would include one daily period of foreign language. A second daily period would alternate between gym, music or another choice.

But that would not apply to Clear Spring Middle School or Hancock. They require a different model because of their size, according to Finan. "It's not one size fits all," he said.

Principals would determine the size of language classes, which initially would be open only to advanced students. Those with the highest reading scores would be given first chance to enroll.

Board member Herbert J. Hardin opposed giving credit for middle school language courses because they would not be uniform.

"The quality is going to vary greatly," he said. "You will have a wide range of development."

Deputy Schools Superintendent Theresa Flak said students could be granted a year's credit for middle school classes only after successfully completing a second level in high school.

Board member B. Marie Byers asked where schools would find space for language classes. Finan said classrooms would be reassigned.

"We're going to have some growing pains with this thing," said Director of Secondary Education Boyd Michael III. "But I fully support it."

Steinly said foreign language has widespread cognitive benefits, and improves learning in other areas of the curriculum. Finan said today's society is culturally diverse and students need to think and reason with a variety of perspectives.

"I believe this community has asked for foreign language in the middle schools for a very long time," said Nipps. "I only see a real plus here."

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