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Schools consider language classes

February 21, 2000|By BRUCE HAMILTON

Local middle schools can begin offering foreign language next year, but only a few schools have expressed an interest in doing so, according to Washington County Board of Education Foreign Language Coordinator Larry Steinly.

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The School Board last week approved a plan to offer languages in county middle schools, which stopped offering those classes more than a decade ago. The courses are voluntary and rely on teacher vacancies at each school.

To bring the classes back without adding staff positions, the School Board plans to fill empty arts positions with language teachers. The plan is to replace only art, music, technology education or family and consumer science teachers who resign, retire or transfer.

Before a foreign language class could be offered at a particular middle school the principal would have to choose to add a foreign language teacher, who would be responsible for two sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade classes.

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"A few schools are considering it very seriously," Steinly said.

He declined to name them because decisions have not been made. One or two schools may add language classes in the fall, but more is unlikely, he said.

"I'm really hopeful because I'm an advocate for this," he said. "To me, the sooner the better."

Steinly said studies show foreign language study improves problem-solving and other thinking skills. It helps students compete in the job market as well as understand and appreciate other cultures, he said.

Washington County is the only Maryland county west of the Chesapeake Bay that does not teach foreign language in middle school, according to Steinly.

Each middle school would decide which language to teach, with the stipulation that it must be a language that is available in the high school where its students will go.

Principals will determine the size of language classes, which initially will be open only to advanced students.

Deputy Superintendent Theresa Flak suggested students could be granted a year's credit for middle school classes if they complete a second level in high school.

Sixth-graders would take "Introduction to Languages" using the "Invitation to Languages" textbook. The book is not used in the school system now.

Seventh- and eighth-graders would use "Dime Uno" for Spanish and "Discovering French Bleu" for French, both of which are used in the high schools. Future offerings could include German or Latin, according to Steinly.

The main cost of the added classes would be for textbooks. Steinly estimated 180 books for six middle school classes would cost between $6,000 and $7,000, which is included in the School Board budget's annual textbook allotment.

Although it may take time before the classes are offered at many middle schools, School Board members welcomed the initiative.

"I'm just glad we're getting started," said board President Paul Bailey.

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