Up until this year, most Frederick County students had to wait until middle school to try a foreign language.
But that might change this fall as a result of a proposal that aims to pilot a foreign language program at four elementary schools — Myersville, New Market, Oakdale and Twin Ridge.
The proposed pilot — scheduled for review by the school board on Wednesday — would start on a minor scale, allowing a small group of interested second-graders to take short Spanish lessons twice per week during the school day.
“It will be more of a conversational piece,” said Jason Anderson, the school system’s supervisor of curriculum implementation and innovation.
According to Anderson, the schools selected to participate in the pilot also were the ones with the smallest number of students who already speak Spanish.
If board members approve the proposal, school officials want to monitor it throughout the year, and think that it could one day be expanded to include multiple languages.
The idea for the pilot came out of the work of the school board’s curriculum and instruction committee, which had directed staff to research how other Maryland counties handle the introduction of foreign languages.
Although research suggests students are better equipped to learn a foreign language while they are young and still learning their own language, schools throughout the U.S. have been slow in getting the message, said DeWayne Cash, curriculum specialist for world languages.
In Frederick County, there has been interest in early foreign language instruction. The new Carroll Creek Montessori Charter School, which opens this fall for students age 3 through third grade, will have two Spanish immersion classrooms, where all of the instruction will be delivered in Spanish. In addition, the school also will offer Spanish instruction taught in English.
The Frederick Classical Charter School, which aims to open in the fall of 2013, also will offer Spanish and Latin instruction on elementary level.
According to Tom Neumark, the school’s founder, Spanish will be required of all students in grades kindergarten through six, and Latin will be required of all students in grades four to six.
"Many families came up to us at our information nights and said our foreign language program was something that they wanted,” Neumark wrote in an email to the Gazette. “I think the fact that both charter schools were offering foreign languages provided a push for FCPS to do the same. Having ideas that get emulated is one of the many ways that charter schools improve the opportunities available to students who stay in the regular public schools."
Frederick County school officials, however, said they took the idea from other Maryland counties that are experimenting with elementary foreign language instruction.
Because the pilot is in such an early phase, officials could not yet provide specific details such as how many students will be in each class. But if the board approves the initiative, parents will receive handouts that tell them how to sign up for the program, Cash said.
This summer, Cash has spent time working with teachers to develop a list of teaching resources for the pilot. Cash, who also has a degree in Spanish, will oversee the program. He will make sure teachers have everything they need throughout the year and eventually will collect feedback on the effort from teachers, students and families.
“Hopefully, after this year we will continue with this,” Cash said. “One day, fingers crossed, we will have multiple languages. Spanish is just the beginning. We hope to have enough demand and enough funding.”
Twin Ridge Elementary Principal Kimberly Seiss said she has not yet told parents about the program, but expects families will be interested.
“I do have parents who ask all the time,” she said. “My teachers are excited about this. We are excited to be a part of it.”