board wants input from local residents
to study foreign languages
What sort of foreign language instruction does the Yellow Springs community
want for its children? At what age should children begin language study?
And how can a small school system provide students with more options in
its foreign language curriculum on a limited budget?
The Yellow Springs Board of Education considered these questions at its
Oct. 24 Committee of the Whole meeting, which focused solely on the foreign
language program at Yellow Springs High School. Prompting the discussion
was a request by YSHS Principal John Gudgel to reactivate the Foreign
Language Committee, a group of teachers, board members, administrators,
students and villagers who in the past have acted as overseers of the
schools foreign language program.
Those at the meeting, including board members, foreign language teachers,
a parent and a foreign exchange student, agreed on the value of learning
a foreign language and the need to examine the current foreign language
Im very happy that were going to look at the program,
said YSHS Spanish teacher Kathy Burkland. There are so many things
we need to look at and prioritize.
Currently in Yellow Springs public schools, foreign language instruction
begins in high school, where the school offers two languages, Spanish
and French, said Gudgel. In the past German had also been offered, but
had been cut due to declining enrollment, he said.
Most students take a foreign language, said Gudgel. About 120 students
study Spanish and 50 to 75 take French. The majority take one or two years
of a language, and two years are required for college admission, said
YSHS guidance counselor and French teacher Dave Smith.
Students who want to learn a different language sometimes choose to study
Japanese with Antioch College Professor Harold Wright, said Smith. There
are not many options for other languages, he said.
No language instruction is currently offered in the middle school or elementary
school levels, said Gudgel. At one time, the middle school offered a class
that provided cultural exposure to a variety of countries but did not
teach a language. The program was eliminated a few years ago partly due
to a lack of available periods in a schedule filled with classes required
by the state.
Ideally, young people would be introduced to a foreign language in elementary
school, said Burkland. She said her dream is that the Yellow
Springs program would begin in fifth grade, when a child has a facility
for learning a language more easily.
Serhiy Fesyun, a foreign exchange student from the Ukraine studying at
YSHS this year, said children in his country begin studying language in
elementary school, sometimes as early as kindergarten.
The Yellow Springs public schools dont offer foreign languages earlier
because of the districts limited resources, said Superintendent
Our program is the way it is because we have two languages, which
splits our resources, said Armocida. If we had only one foreign
language, we could start in middle school. Is it important to the community
to have multiple languages offered?
Limited resources also affects how many advanced classes the high school
can offer, Burkland said. While students may take four years of French
at YSHS, they can only take three years of Spanish, due to the large numbers
of freshmen and sophomores studying Spanish. Consequently, she said, some
of her most dedicated students are abandoned in their senior
year, when they want to continue their study of Spanish.
Not having a fourth-year Spanish class was a terrible loss
to his daughter, said Tucker Malishenko, whose daughter, Myra, graduated
from YSHS last year and is currently an exchange student in Costa Rica.
Learning Spanish was a transformative experience for Myra,
said Malishenko. He said that when Myra returned from a school-sponsored
trip to Mexico, she came back with a passion, with her eyes open
and a different view of the world.
While Burkland said she attempted to meet informally with Myra and four
other seniors last year to continue their study, the busyness of the students
lives made it difficult for them to show up on a regular basis. It
doesnt work when its a club. We need to reward the students
who apply themselves by offering the opportunities they deserve,
To allow her time in the school day to teach fourth-level Spanish, Burkland
suggested limiting the number of freshmen allowed to take first-level
Spanish, perhaps by using a lottery system.
All who attended the meeting said they were frustrated that the district
is not able to offer more language study to Yellow Springs students.
Several years ago, the school board considered offering foreign language
courses in middle school, but decided against it due to the school systems
limited resources and the lack of available time in the schedule, said
board member Bill Firestone.
Given those constraints, what can we do with what we have?
he asked. How can we make a richer experience for students without
more money and more time?
The board will soon announce a new Foreign Language Committee structure
and committee charge, said Board president Rich Bullock.
The board also needs guidance from the Yellow Springs community as to
how to prioritize its language program, Armocida and several board members
Id like to find out how the community feels. Does it want
to scale down to one language or to keep two? said board member
Angela Wright. We need to get the community engaged in this conversation.