Although Frederick County school officials are eager to offer a foreign language program for elementary students, some parents are urging them to proceed with caution.
Concerned the school board has not identified a steady funding source for the program — which will start with a budget-neutral pilot at four elementary schools in the fall — some parents want to ensure the new effort would not hurt the school system’s existing foreign language initiatives.
“I am totally in support of adding the new program,” said Janice Spiegel, former president of the PTA Council of Frederick County. “But if they don’t find new funding, it is going to have to come from the middle school and the high school.”
The secondary language programs in Frederick County already are struggling with packed classes and limited options for advanced courses, said Spiegel, whose son took Spanish 2 in a class of 40 at Middletown High School.
Before adding a new program, the board should study how it would fit within existing foreign language offerings, she said.
Spiegel’s comments came just as the school board on July 11 unanimously approved a proposal for a pilot Spanish program for second-graders at Myersville, New Market, Oakdale and Twin Ridge elementary schools.
The pilot will start in the fall, allowing students to take 20-minute conversational Spanish lessons twice per week during social studies classes.
The initiative will be cost neutral. It is Frederick County’s first attempt to offer foreign language before middle school, said DeWayne Cash, the school system’s world language curriculum specialist.
The language for the program was chosen because of availability of resources in Spanish, said Cash, who has a degree in Spanish and will oversee the initiative.
“It’s a place for a genesis,” said Cash, who already has started working with teachers to develop resources for the program.
At the end of the year, he will collect feedback on the program and will come back to the board with more details.
The idea for the pilot came from the school board’s curriculum and instruction committee, which had directed staff to research how other Maryland counties handle foreign language instruction.
School board member April Miller, who sits on the committee, said the school officials have wanted to start an elementary-school foreign language program for a long time. The problem always was a lack of money.
So the committee came up with the idea for the pilot as the first small step toward that goal, Miller said. Although it will be far from a comprehensive program, the initiative will be a way to test the waters, she said.
“It’s a building block, it’s a start,” Miller said. “We have to start somewhere.”
School board members said that although not ideal, the pilot is a way to start.
“For us to do this properly do this, it is going to take additional funding,” said board President Angie Fish. If the school system decides to build upon the pilot, school officials would have to request additional funding from the county commissioners.
“We need to make sure that we are in this together,” Fish said.
Although they understand the board’s position, parents like Spiegel are urging the board to be careful as they move forward.
The school board, for instance, has not decided what would happen to the second-graders after they take the Spanish pilot for one year. Officials also will have to consider the “domino effect” that the new program could have on course selections in middle and high school, Spiegel said.
Daphne Gabb, also a former president of the PTA Council, said the school board should first try to fix the problems with the existing high school foreign language program, before moving on with elementary instruction.
At the high school level, county schools already are struggling to provide advanced-level language classes, because often there are not enough students interested. For that reason, Gabb’s son took a mixed French 2, 3 and 4 language class at Middletown High.
“The kids aren’t being encouraged to sign up for it,” Gabb said.
But that can be a problem because today more and more colleges require students to take four years of a foreign language. Although in Frederick County many students tend to take American Sign Language classes, colleges outside Maryland do not count that as a foreign language, Gabb said.
That is why Gabb thinks officials must re-evaluate their entire kindergarten-through-12th grade language program before expanding the pilot.
“It is great starting it earlier,” she said. “But is starting it earlier going to be any good if they can’t do it in high school.”