Bexley seeking ideas for World Language Program

In today’s ever-growing melting pot of the world, communication is key.

And with a countless number of foreign languages spoken around the world, the Bexley School District is reflecting on ways it can prepare its students for those language barriers.

At an informal meeting Oct. 28 at Jeffrey Mansion, community members, board members, staff and administrators gathered for a brainstorming session on a plan to support the existing World Language Program offered in the district.

The meeting is part of an ongoing plan to align with a charge given to the superintendent by the board by passing a resolution two years ago, which would require district administration to devise a plan to support additional World Language program and credit opportunities for the students.

The charge also includes options of hiring staff members "in partnership with other educational entities in Bexley and the greater Franklin County area."

A third component of the charge includes offering programs using electronic media and the Internet.

Currently, the district offers Spanish, French and Latin. Students learn foreign languages as early as first grade.

In May, the board was asked to review potential recommendations by the district’s department of curriculum and instruction, in partnership with the World Language teachers.

Those recommendations included strengthening the three current language programs, identifying technology that would support additional languages that might be of interest to students and technology and would assist students with having more experiences with their target languages, and language assessments every two or three years for foreign language students.

During the meeting, the group discussed the beginning component of the charge, which asked how current foreign language offerings fit a future vision of globalization, and if any changes could be made to align the district’s language programming with future students’ needs. Many participants shared their own personal stories of taking foreign language classes or their observations of their children in foreign language classes.

Staff and administrators expressed concern on the dwindling number of students enrolled in foreign language classes. Some pointed out students already have full schedules with requirements, and others have lost interest.

One thought that resonated through the room was the stress of giving elementary students even more time in a foreign language class. Currently, elementary students at Bexley receive 30 minutes of foreign language a week.
Board vice President Andy Sutter believes pushing foreign languages in the early years is beneficial.

"If we have to wait until high school to encourage foreign languages, we have missed the boat," he said.

The group discussed the benefits of learning a second language in terms of globalization and adapting to the world of many languages.

Community member Debi Stewart, whose daughter graduated from Bexley last year, attended the meeting to give an outsider’s perspective.

"When I was in school, I didn’t like foreign language," she said. "I took Spanish as an elective. But now, foreign language is no longer an elective, but a necessity. It’s time to start treating it like a necessity. Math, in essence, is a language. Music is a language."

Superintendent Dr. Michael Johnson asked the group their thoughts on the charge given to him by the board.

"I have specific directions here," he said. "There is a desire by the resolution to support additional programs. I’m giving that for the focus of the discussion. The concern I have is in terms of what I do for the next step."

Board member Joan Fishel responded that the more important focus was the development and implementation of a plan.

"If you don’t have more credit opportunities by next year, we won’t say, ‘shame, shame, shame,’" she said. "There are two goals here: fluency and global awareness. I want to know what’s possible and probable."

Though several in the group discussed the implementation of another language or another way of providing resources for learning another language, high school Principal John Kellogg emphasized the current program available.

"There is a program already in place that addresses those two goals," he said. "Those languages now prepare students for a larger global aspects. I don’t think we put enough resources in the current program, let alone add any more."

Sutter agreed.

"It doesn’t necessarily mean adding another language," he said. "My personal objective is to see us doing more."

Group members tossed ideas around as to what the district could do to support the current program, including using software such as Rosetta Stone, and partnering with other educational institutions in the area as well as other districts.

"The discussion doesn’t have to end," Peterson said. "I appreciate what’s been talked about today."

Johnson concurred.

"This is one giant leap forward of the discussion," he said.

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