ID-4 parents seek language program

MIDDLEBURY — The ID-4 school board will form a committee to study the feasibility of re-establishing a foreign language program at Mary Hogan Elementary School by the fall of 2011.
The study comes in response to a citizens’ petition, signed by 90 Middlebury residents, seeking resumption of world language instruction at Mary Hogan. School officials made the painful decision to drop French classes several years ago, primarily due to financial reasons.
But supporters argue that a second-language offering (the first is English) would pay big dividends for students who will be graduating into an increasingly global economy, culture and social structure.
“I believe every child would benefit from it,” said Corinna Noelke, who along with fellow resident Ruth Hardy spearheaded the citizens’ petition drive.
Noelke grew up learning four different languages in Germany, a country that introduces second-language learning in grade school and a third language during the middle school years.
“I grew up in a country where learning a second language was really important,” she said.
While Noelke is teaching her two children German at home, she would like them, and their classmates, to have access to additional foreign language instruction (not necessarily German) at school.
“I think it is really important in this world,” she said, noting, among other things, the presence of Middlebury College as local melting pot, the close proximity of French-speaking Quebec, and the increase of Spanish-speaking workers at area farms.
Beyond that, Noelke believes instruction in a second language would increase students’ comprehension of English and enhance current ID-4 literacy programs. She noted Latin, the romance languages and English feature some common word elements.
Hardy has two children at Mary Hogan Elementary and another on the way in pre-school. She, like Noelke, believes all children would be well-served by an ID-4 language program.
“It is so they can communicate as global citizens,” Hardy said of benefits of knowing a second language.
She added that elementary school is an opportune time to teach languages to students.
“It is easiest when they are young,” Hardy said. “They are able to absorb (languages) much more quickly.”
Tom Buzzell, associate principal at Mary Hogan Elementary, said the study committee will examine a variety of issues related to adding a language program, including cost and class scheduling.
Plans call for the committee to make its final report to the ID-4 board later this year. A favorable report and vote by the ID-4 board could lead to a program being launched in the fall of 2011.
“It is not a foregone conclusion that we will move forward with this,” Buzzell stressed.
Indeed, finances are tighter than ever among Vermont public schools. The ID-4 board is currently considering a draft 2010-2011 that calls for a 1.52-percent increase in spending compared to this year. All seven Addison Central Supervisory Union (ACSU) elementary schools will be pitching budgets with increases of less that 2 percent, and in some cases, spending decreases.
But supporters believe a new language program could be offered with little extra cost. Noelke and Hardy said the district could consider offering it throughout the ACSU, thereby sharing the financial load. This would also ensure that Mary Hogan Elementary students would not have an unfair advantage over their ACSU colleagues when they eventually gain access to Middlebury Union Middle School language programs, supporters argued.
School board members are receptive to the idea, but only if details can be worked out.
“Obviously, I think it would be wonderful if we could do it,” ID-4 board member Lucy Schumer said. “But we have to find the money for it and time in the school day.”

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