by Kristin Casale
Stow -- School district officials are discussing the feasibility of implementing a foreign language program at the elementary level, noting such a change requires research.
District Director of Curriculum and Instruction Linda Klamer said educators agree the best time to teach children a foreign language is when they are in elementary school, particularly between the ages of 4 and 8.
"The brain can adjust to learning when [children] are younger," she said.
Klamer added learning a foreign language can aid students in the future if they pursue careers in international business, and learning another language can benefit them while they still are in school.
"It can enhance listening and memory skills," she said. "It relates to higher-order problem solving."
However, Klamer said, implementing a foreign language curriculum at the elementary level may not be feasible.
Klamer estimated at least seven teachers would be needed to provide foreign language instruction at the elementary level, stating the cost to employ those instructors could total more than $300,000 annually.
Additionally, she said, it is possible the schools' daily schedules would need to be adjusted or extended to accommodate the teaching of another subject during the day. There also could be concerns with how advanced placement foreign language courses are offered to students at the high school, she said.
"It's a very costly program," said Klamer.
Currently, Stow-Munroe Falls High School students are able to take Spanish, Japanese, Latin, French and German, said high school guidance counselor Rosemary Stehman-Humble. Kimpton Middle School eighth-graders can take Spanish and Japanese for high school credit, said Assistant Principal William Humble.
In the past, elementary-level students could participate in an after-school foreign language program taught by a private company between mid-2004 and the 2005-06 school year, but the program was eliminated due to a lack of participation, said Klamer. Also, French was taught to Fishcreek Elementary first-graders, and German was taught to Indian Trail Elementary first-graders starting in 1999 and 2000, respectively, she said. However, Klamer added, the programs were cut in 2001 due to a lack of funds.
According to Board of Education Vice President Kathy Armstrong, implementing a foreign language program at the elementary level requires research in a number of areas.
"You're looking at so many changes," she said, stating districts often must cut existing programs to add new ones. "What is worth more? I don't know if I want to do decide that. To me, there's just so much that's critical to each individual kid."
Superintendent Dr. Russell Jones agrees.
"Our kids are only going to benefit from [learning foreign languages], but we have to look at some kind of cost-effective model," he said. "I'd hate to lose something. How do we get it into the school day?"
Boardmember Dorne Chadsey strongly urged the district to consider implementing a foreign language program at the elementary buildings, stating there is a growing demand in the business world for bilingual employees.
"Let's think outside the box," he said.
District officials plan to continue discussing the issue, but a meeting date for the topic has not been set.