ID-4 board considers spanish class

MIDDLEBURY — The ID-4 Second Language Committee is recommending that Mary Hogan Elementary School begin offering a Spanish program beginning next fall — initially to students in grades K-2, but ultimately to all grades by the 2015-2016 academic year.
The recommendation, made to the ID-4 school board on Nov. 22, comes after almost a year of study following a petitioned request by more than 90 residents seeking resumption of world language instruction at Mary Hogan. The school dropped French classes several years ago, primarily due to financial reasons.
Finances have only gotten tougher for schools, but foreign language boosters pointed to the merits of offering such instruction to students who are better able to grasp linguistics at an early age.
“It just opens a door into different ideas and a different way of thinking that will help any student, whether they end up using Spanish, or another language for that matter, later on in life,” ID-4 Second Language Committee member Corinna Noelke told board members.
Noelke and her colleagues stressed that the school should offer Spanish with the intent of students gaining fluency, rather than simply as an exercise in language appreciation.
“The goal is for them to read and communicate in Spanish,” said Ruth Hardy, an ID-4 director and member of the school’s language committee.
Supporters acknowledge there will be many details to sort out before a Spanish program can be implemented, not the least of which is financing. School officials estimate a 0.75-percent teaching position would be needed to put the course into motion for grades K-2. Mary Hogan Elementary officials have already reached out to Middlebury College — nationally known for its foreign language instruction — for help in establishing the program. Principal Bonnie Bourne said plans call for a meeting between college and Middlebury school officials after the Thanksgiving break. That meeting will also include Addison Central Supervisory Union Superintendent Lee Sease, as supporters believe a successful Spanish program could be shared — or replicated — in some or all of the six other elementary schools in the ACSU. Hardy noted that Weybridge Elementary already offers some Spanish instruction, while school officials in Cornwall, Shoreham and Salisbury have expressed some interest. The new offering would also ideally dovetail with foreign language expectations at Middlebury Union Middle School.
While supporters of the proposed Spanish program vowed to apply for grants to help fund the initiative, they said it would be wise to build the offering into the ID-4 spending plan for 2011-2012.
“Yes, we think we can find outside funding sources to supplement the program and keep it running, but in the long run, unless it is really integrated into the curriculum and finances of the school, it is going to be challenging to keep it going and — like the French program — it is not going to last,” Hardy said.
Bourne agreed.
“To let the program exist forever on grant funding, it’s not going to be the way to go forward,” Bourne said.
The ID-4 board is attempting to meet the state’s Challenges for Change goal of cutting education spending by roughly 2 percent for 2011-2012. That amounts to around $235,000 in spending reductions compared to this year. That means school directors will likely have to re-prioritize expenditures within the context of a leaner budget in order to accommodate a Spanish program, barring a new, sustainable funding source.
If the program catches on, plans call for one grade level to be added each year so the program becomes K-6 by the 2015–2016 school year.
Should Spanish get a green light from the school board, the Mary Hogan School Curriculum and Staff Committee would help design a specific language program.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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