Speaking different languages

February 28, 2005|by MARLO BARNHART

Recognizing that the Tri-State area is part of a shrinking global community, many school districts are translating this reality into a reason to expand the study of languages, starting as early as kindergarten and elementary school.

"In Washington County Public Schools we are experiencing phenomenal growth in our language studies," said Gloria Grimsley, who is supervisor of world and classical languages.

At Smithsburg and Boonsboro elementary schools, a teacher travels between the schools, offering Foreign Language Elementary School (FLES) studies.

"We're hoping to add another elementary school, but we're not sure with what language yet," Grimsley said.

Some students at Greenbrier Elementary School near Boonsboro are involved in partial immersion Spanish, which is in its second year there, Grimsley said.


"These students do all their work, their reading and writing in Spanish," Grimsley said.

This is the first year that Greenbrier has had a Hispanic teacher teaching Spanish, said Pamela Oyanedel, who came to Washington County last year from Connecticut.

"This job was waiting for me," Oyanedel said.

Teaching Spanish to kindergartners and first-graders is special, Oyanedel said.

"They are very eager - at that age they aren't afraid to speak the language," Oyanedel said.

Often as children get older, they become self-conscious and worry about how they will sound, but when they are young, that's not the case, Oyanedel said, remembering how she felt learning English for the first time.

Last year, the children learned the basics and this year, Oyanedel is introducing grammar into the curriculum.

Greenbrier Principal Elaine Semler said having Oyanedel in her school has been a delight.

"The children are really enjoying this," Semler said. "It is so important in this day and age for children to understand other languages like Spanish."

This type of intense study isn't uncommon in high schools, where advanced placement classes have been doing that for a long time, she said.

Most high schools throughout the Tri-State area offer the traditional languages such as Spanish, French and German. There still are many Latin classes in Tri-State area schools and at North Hagerstown High School, there even is a class in Russian.

The Russian class is available because a North High teacher, Carisa Ravotta, was willing to teach the class, Grimsley said.

In the community where Ravotta grew up outside of Pittsburgh, there was a large Russian presence, she said.

"I studied the language for four years in high school and then double-majored in Russian and English at the University of Pittsburgh," Ravotta said.

Ravotta said Russian is a difficult language because it has a different alphabet.

"It is challenging, but I'm enjoying it since it is the first time I've had the opportunity to teach it to real kids in a high school," she said.

Ravotta hopes that the class will continue next year, but she realizes that English is her first responsibility in the North High curriculum. She currently teaches one Russian class that has about 20 students.

"Currently, Russian is a singular elective," North High Principal Robert C. "Bo" Myers said.

Myers said he hopes to see more expansion of the language curriculum whenever it is feasible.

Other languages already are being explored in Washington County.

"We would like to offer Japanese in the near future," Grimsley said.

In Berkeley County, W.Va., there was a teacher who offered a course in Japanese, according to Jaimee Borger, spokeswoman for Berkeley County Schools. But when that teacher moved, there was no one to teach it anymore.

Judy Maxwell chairs the language department at Greencastle-Antrim High School in Franklin County, Pa. There, students can take Spanish and French in the classroom as well as Latin, which is Maxwell's area of instruction.

"We can also offer our students Japanese and German via a long-distance network, which is available now," Maxwell said. Those classes are taught on television and are interactive.

"I actually teach Latin II through the long-distance network to three girls in another school district in Pennsylvania," Maxwell said. She sees this network expanding as the technology becomes available.

For 14 years, Maxwell has been teaching Latin at Greencastle-Antrim High School.

"I teach every period of every day - no breaks," she said.

That translates into more than 200 students in four levels of Latin.

"This is hardly a dead language," Maxwell said. "Latin is especially valuable in learning grammar, vocabulary and structure of English."

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