Span­ish lan­guage pro­gram re­viewed

More class time needed, say board mem­bers

The Avenue News - - news - By VIR­GINIA TERHUNE vter­hune@ches­pub.com

The Bal­ti­more County school sys­tem has ex­tended the amount of time ele­men­tary stu­dents spend in Span­ish class as part of a pi­lot plan to even­tu­ally in­tro­duce Span­ish to all stu­dents.

For the past two years, 4th and 5th graders in par­tic­i­pat­ing schools have been spend­ing 25 to 30 min­utes a week in class with a Span­ish teacher, and this year 5th graders will spend 50 min­utes, ac­cord­ing to ad­min­is­tra­tors.

Still being con­sid­ered by the sys­tem’s cur­ricu­lum com­mit­tee is whether to also ex­tend the ex­tra time to 4th graders, said Ver­letta White, the sys­tem’s chief aca­demic of­fi­cer, at the Board of Ed­u­ca­tion meet­ing on Sept. 27.

Ad­min­is­tra­tors and the board are con­sid­er­ing a rec­om­men­da­tion to ex­tend the time by the sys­tem’s con­sul­tants, the Cen­ter for Ap­plied Lin­guis­tics, which pre­sented an eval­u­a­tion of the pi­lot pro­gram’s first two years at the meet­ing.

The Bal­ti­more County school sys­tem has set a goal of pro­vid­ing more for­eign lan­guage classes to help stu­dents bet­ter com­pete in a global econ­omy. Right now, stu­dents typ­i­cally start learn­ing a se­cond lan­guage in 7th grade.

Dur­ing the 2014-15 school year, the sys­tem in­tro­duced its Span­ish Pass­port pi­lot pro­gram for 4th and 5th graders in 10 ele­men­tary schools.

The pro­gram was con­tin­ued in the 10 schools the fol­low­ing year, with the ad­di­tion of 15 more schools of­fer­ing Span­ish to 4th graders.

The pi­lot pro­gram in­cludes the 25 to 30 min­utes a week in class with a Span­ish teacher and also sets aside another 40 min­utes a week for stu­dent ac­cess to an on­line com­puter pro­gram de­vel­oped by Mid­dle­bury In­ter­ac­tive Lan­guages (MIL).

The eval­u­a­tion by the the Cen­ter for Ap­plied Lin­guis­tics was based on surveys, in­ter­views and class­room ob­ser­va­tions at 10 of the par­tic­i­pat­ing ele­men­tary schools, in­clud­ing Bear Creek in Dun­dalk, Glen­mar in Mid­dle River, Sus­sex in Es­sex and Vin­cent Farm in White Marsh.

The con­sul­tants con­cluded that over­all, the pro­gram made progress to­ward preparing stu­dent to study 6th grade Span­ish, which not only re­quires a knowl­edge of ba­sic gram­mar but also how to use the lan­guage.

Stu­dents re­ported lik­ing the lessons, and the con­sul­tants said the five Span­ish teach­ers were do­ing a good job of speak­ing Span­ish for much of the class and pre­sent­ing words in con­text, a method that has been proven more ef­fec­tive than teach­ing in English.

How­ever, the con­sul­tants noted that not all stu­dents spent a to­tal 40 min­utes on­line be­cause of the short tran­si­tion time be­tween classes and time booked on com­put­ers by other pro­grams.

Stu­dents and teach­ers also re­ported hav­ing prob­lems with com­puter head sets not work­ing.

Stu­dent work in grades 4 and 5 has not been graded so far, but the plan is to in­tro­duce pro­fi­ciency tests this year, ac­cord­ing to the con­sul­tant.

Sev­eral school board mem­bers noted the en­thu­si­asm of the stu­dents and the good work of teach­ers, but oth­ers said that more time needs to be sched­uled for in­struc­tion.

“When I go around and talk to stu­dents, they can barely say Hola and ¿Cómo estás?,” said board mem­ber Mar­i­ole John­son. “It’s def­i­nitely not enough time for any­one to be pro­fi­cient by 6th grade.”

“If the county moves for­ward with this, it can’t be just a sprin­kling in where we can,” she said. “[Stu­dents] can’t learn any­thing con­sis­tently when prac­tic­ing on and off 30 min­utes per week.” Mem­ber Michael Collins agreed. “The kids are not learn­ing Span­ish to any sig­nif­i­cant de­gree,” he said. “There’s sim­ply not enough time.”

Collins said the pro­gram has taken some baby steps for­ward but that more needs to be done if the sys­tem ex­pects to even­tu­ally grad­u­ate more bilin­gual stu­dents.

The state re­quires two years of a for­eign lan­guage to grad­u­ate from high school, White said.

Bal­ti­more County sys­tem, how­ever, has also opted to sched­ule lan­guage classes in mid­dle school and is now of­fer­ing the pi­lot pro­gram in ele­men­tary school.

“Be­gin­ning in the 4th grade gives them a leg up,” said White about the early ex­po­sure to the lan­guage.

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