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District adjusts to language cuts

BY LILY ABROMEIT | APRIL 15, 2014 5:00 AM

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Lauren Schafer has been studying Spanish since kindergarten. But the list of language options offered at her school just became a little bit shorter.

Lauren is a sixth-grader at Wickham Elementary, and she will attend North Central Junior High next fall.

“I think it’s cool to learn other languages,” she said. “Maybe if I vacation somewhere else, or if I have a job to be in another country, or need to communicate with people who speak other languages, that would affect it.”

She has taken after-school Spanish classes since kindergarten, but starting next year, every other day she will most likely be taking a study hall instead of entering into Level 1 Spanish.

Recently, because of the budget, all seventh-grade language programs were cut in the Iowa City school district, including all-level German classes.

Some are worried what this will mean for the future of children in the district, but Lauren’s mother said she is not very concerned about her daughter, because she was immersed in the after-school programs so early on.

“She’s had exposure to Spanish,” Maureen Schafer said. “[But] it’s always exciting … to go to junior high when you can actually get more involved in it.”

Pamela Wesely, a UI assistant professor of secondary education in the College of Education, has created a database to advertise various early language-learning programs in the area, something that could become even more important in light of the recent cuts.

“Those programs serve a community need,” she said. “Those organizations sometimes are able to organize and provide extracurricular language education.”

Wesely said as much as she would like to see these after-school programs replace the seventh-grade curriculum, she doesn’t see it happening anytime soon.

“These extracurricular programs are not accessible for all families and so can never replace foreign languages in the public school curriculum,” she said in an email.

In an ideal world, Schafer said she would like to see after-school language programs fill the void. But in reality, she said she does not expect it to happen.

“I know from my own experience from my kids that they get busier in junior high,” she said. “Once they’re in athletics that are every day after school, and other activities, I’m not hopeful that kids would enroll in an after-school program”

She said she hopes her children will continue with languages, because she thinks it will make them more competitive when applying to college.

One coordinator for early language-learning programs in the area said learning a language early on can improve the odds of children continuing with the language when they reach junior high and beyond.

“Early language learning, if done well, it opens the child to the possibility of study later and maybe removes some of the apprehension when they get older and are graded,” said Kristi Abuissa, coordinator for the after-school language program for Shimek Elementary. “Usually, the early language programs are fun and exploratory, so they can be a good introduction.”

A 17-year-old student in her third year of German said even if after-school programs are implemented to replace the soon-to-be vanished German classes, it would not be an equal substitute.

“I think if it’s peer tutoring or just online tutoring through the district, it would be extremely difficult [but] I think if it was a teacher who knows it better … that it would work a lot better,” said Lilly Brown, a junior at City High school. “I understand that the board had to make cuts … but I still think that there are other ways to do it.”


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