Tuesday, November 22, 2005
The School Board gave initial approval Monday night to a foreign language program that would provide constant instruction for students as they progress through the school system.
A proposal, prepared by district staff and community members, outlines plans to increase foreign language -- primarily Spanish -- instruction at district elementary and middle schools.
Elementary school teachers would be trained in conversational Spanish to use in classroom "immersion" lessons, and middle school students would be required to take a full school year of a foreign language in sixth, seventh and eighth grades.
According to the proposal, the expanded program would cost $110,000. The Education Fund Board would be asked to pay that cost, an idea that raised warning flags for board member Pat Gleason.
"We have to be willing to fund this in the absence of the Education Fund Board," Gleason said, citing the hypothetical loss of the half-cent sales tax that brings the Fund Board about $2 million in annual revenues.
Superintendent Donna Howell agreed.
"If the board wants to have an articulated foreign language program, we need to have a constant source of revenue," she said.
Fifty thousand dollars of the proposed program's cost would fund a new full-time teacher at Steamboat Springs Middle School, where students would be required to take a full academic year of Spanish in sixth grade. Students would then choose to take French or Spanish for seventh and eighth grades.
"This will give our students an outstanding language base by the time they leave our school," said Tim Bishop, middle school principal.
Forty thousand dollars would fund the addition of one day -- to provide planning time and training for teachers -- to the current elementary school schedule. Under the proposal, all teachers at Strawberry Park and Soda Creek elementary schools would be trained in conversational Spanish, to use common terms and phrases in their classrooms on a regular basis. Visual aids and cues also would be developed and purchased for every classroom, the proposal reads. No additional class time would be required at the elementary schools.
The rest of the program's cost, $20,000, would fund materials at the elementary and middle schools. Costs for many of those materials, such as textbooks, would not apply every year. The elementary school proposal estimates a $300 material replacement cost annually.
Board members supported the program and gave approval for it to be presented to the Program Review Committee and the Education Excellence Commission.
"We really need to bolster the (foreign language) programs in the lower grades, and this is a good first step," board member Denise Connelly said.
Implementation of the program will depend on approval from the review committee, final passage by the School Board and funding from the Education Fund Board.
At Monday's meeting, middle school French teacher Babette McAlpin Dickson and high school French teacher Erin Moore asked the board to consider greater inclusion of other languages in the program.
McAlpin Dickson said that while "there is no doubt" the Spanish language is widespread in the Western United States, teaching young students other languages, including French, can broaden their cultural horizons, help their standardized testing scores and spark their curiosity about the world.
"Teaching French in the sixth grade would be a breath of fresh air for the students," she said. "They fall in love with the language."