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Advanced foreign language classes dwindling

POULSBO — Offering foreign language programs has become a challenge as North Kitsap and Kingston high schools struggle with shrinking budgets.

North Kitsap High and Kingston High offer three full language programs, half the amount offered by North Kitsap High a few years ago.

“Colleges definitely smile on students who have stuck with learning a new language,” said North Kitsap High Spanish teacher Michael Carnegie.

Before Kingston High opened, North Kitsap offered six language classes: Spanish, French, German, Russian, Japanese and American Sign Language. The language classes split in half when Kingston High opened.

Foreign language classes are not required to graduate high school in Washington state, but many colleges require it for admission.

Last year the State Office of Superintendent Public Instruction sent a survey out to Washington high schools to find out how many of the schools offered foreign language programs. Of the school administrators who responded, 80 percent said their school offered a foreign language program, said Michele Aoki, World Language Program Supervisor for OSPI.

“We have such a low standard of foreign language programs in this state; even in this country,” Aoki said. “To be honest, two semesters of a language at the high school level is pretty worthless. Other countries in this world give students closer to nine years of language classes before they even get to the college level.”

In a September meeting, members of OSPI discussed the possibilities of making foreign languages a requirement to graduate, Aoki said. In the discussed model, a foreign language would be incorporated in students’ curriculums and would no longer be considered an elective, she said.

North Kitsap currently offers full programs of Spanish, French and American Sign Language. A level two German class is also offered this year, but a lack of student interest may lead to a complete cut, said North Kitsap High Principal Kathy Prasch.

“We need to be able to offer at least three levels of a language for students who wish to pursue a language more in-depth,” Prasch said.

Because of the reduced school budget, North cannot afford to offer as many language classes with more than one level, Prasch said.

“I felt it was better to have three stronger classes than spread the language program out,” Prasch said. “It just wouldn’t be worth having one level of a language. It would just be too watered down.”

Enough students were interested in the German program last year to offer a single sequence, but she expects to cut that language from the North schedule next year.

Offering languages earlier in school is one way to combat the loss at the secondary level, but there are limited options. Vinland Elementary began a bi-literacy program last year and Poulsbo Middle offers a level one Spanish class.

“Any exposure to another language is beneficial,” Carnegie said. “My son is 3 and because of (“Dora the Explorer”) he can say ‘Hola.’”

Carnegie teaches Spanish I through IV and said he would like to see languages become a requirement to graduate high school. When students choose their electives, he said he would like to see them choose a language, rather than pottery.

“Sometimes it’s embarrassing when you get an exchange student speaking English perfectly and then Americans just speaking their own language,” Carnegie said.

For additional information on what foreign language programs the schools in your county offer, click HERE.

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