Bethlehem Press

Friday, December 6, 2019

BASD--Board ponders elementary school Spanish

Monday, October 17, 2016 by Liz Kemmerer Special to the Bethlehem Press in Local News

The Bethlehem Area School Board proposed a plan for making Spanish language learning a standard in elementary schools at the monthly curriculum meeting Oct. 10. According to Superintendent Dr. Joseph Roy, the plan could be implemented as early as next year.

“Parents have been asking when World Language is coming to elementary school,” said Roy. “We talk a lot about educating the whole child and about global citizenship, yet we’re far behind other countries in language learning.”

Currently, the World Language Program begins in sixth grade, with students who are not in need of additional support in reading or math, through the “taste” method. Sixth graders spend one third of the school year in each of the three languages currently offered in middle school and high school – Spanish, French and German – in order to supplement each and choose which to study starting in seventh grade. Between seventh and eighth grade, students complete level one of that language.

“This system, however, yields a disproportionate number of students in certain languages, namely Spanish,” Roy said. “Most students prefer Spanish, we’re noticing, because they perceive it to be the most useful.”

According to a CNN report from July, 2015 cited in the board’s agenda, “The United States is now the second largest Spanish-speaking country, second only to Mexico.” Landauer & Tauber of the Morning Call reported in 2014 that Northampton County saw a 12 percent increase in populations of Hispanic or Latino ethnicity between 2010 and 2013.

“Being multilingual allows students to navigate and respond to the needs of an ever-developing global community,” said Roy. “We want to bring something of real value to our students and at an age when their brains are still ripe enough to absorb it. And language learning is shown to enhance reading and analytical skills in general. So, we would be helping our students on a lot of levels.”

The new program would be rolled out over three years. During year one, all elementary students would take Spanish one time per six-day cycle as another “special,” such as gym class or art class. Currently, elementary students take five specials, one per day of the week. A few minutes would be taken from each of these other specials and be put towards a sixth special for Spanish. The cycle would then be changed from five days to six days.

“We’ve been exploring a program like this is Quakertown that doesn’t require teachers to have their secondary education certification in language. If we go that route, we could begin as early as next year,” Roy explained. “The fact that we’re not loosing much time makes the program cost-effective. The students would learn mostly vocabulary in elementary school.”

In year two of the program, elementary students would continue learning Spanish while students in middle school would be offered levels one and two. In year three, students would enter high school with a wider foundation in language instruction than before.

“After having acquired so much of a language in their early years, students would have a better capacity for acquiring more of that language, or another language,” Roy said. “The longer students are exposed to a language, the more time they have to change a language. We would need to think seriously about what other language options we could offer students. Specializations in currently languages could be offered, too, such as Spanish in the Medical Field.”

Roy is confident that the normal movement of teachers between schools and retiring teachers will leave space for hours to be filled, so, no teachers should lose any of their hours because of adjustments to this program.

In other news, the board of directors authorized the administration to submit 13 grant applications on behalf of 13 Bethlehem area elementary schools for $5,000 ($65,000 total) per school from the Lehigh Valley Community Foundation (LVCF) for the 2017-18 academic year.

LVCF is a charitable organization whose mission is to provide leadership and character development in K-12 students through the Leader In Me program. Leader In Me equips administrators, teachers, students and parents with the tools for enhancing students’ interpersonal skills, citizenship and academic performance.

“There are 16 total elementary schools in our district,” says Jodi Frankelli, Supervisor of Early Learning and Grants. “We’re already implementing the program in three of our elementary schools – Governor Wolf, Lincoln and Spring Garden using a gradual phase-in process to account for the costs. Each of these schools has either completed the program or they’re in some phase of it and it’s going very well. Now, we’d like to roll it out to our 13 remaining elementary schools.”

The remaining schools to go through the program are Asa Packer, Calypso, Clearview, Donegan, Farmersville, Fountain Hill, Freemansburg, Hanover, James Buchanan, Marvine, Miller Heights, Thomas Jefferson and William Penn.