By Ariel Tausk
managing news/page one
Beginning with the class of 2016 (next years’ freshmen), students will be required to earn at least two credits of a world language other than English.
These credits can be earned in any high school-level world language class. Language classes taken in seventh and eighth grade are also valid options to fulfill this requirement, since the curriculums for these classes are equivalent to those of the high schools’.
Students with prior knowledge of a world language have an additional option. They can take an exam to show that they have at least a two-year equivalent understanding of the language.
This graduation requirement is not unique to MPS. According to the Michigan.gov website, this is a state-wide goal that was put into action by former governor Jennifer Granholm, the state legislature and the State Board of Education.
“Landmark state graduation requirements are being implemented to give
Michigan students the knowledge and skills to succeed in the 21st century and drive Michigan’s economic success in the global economy,” the site reads.
Compared to the other courses required for graduation by the state, the world language requirement wasn’t set to begin until later.
“The reason that the state made the foreign language requirement kick in later than all the other course areas was to give smaller districts,
that might not have two years of language, the time to get a language program up and going,” German teacher Brian Smith said.
The new initiative brings uncertainties to teachers and students alike.
“Learning a foreign language is a good thing,” senior Amanda Mayes said. “But it’s not a good thing for it to be required because some people aren’t really good at learning foreign languages.”
Mayes’ thoughts regarding the requirement are something the language department has already taken into consideration. Spanish teachers have been working to put together a survey of Spanish course specifically for students who struggle with a language, hoping to help them fulfill their two-year requirement.
“For the last couple of years, we’ve been working on designing the new class, which will go at a slower pace and it will be tailored to make the class more accessible for kids who ordinarily would not be taking a foreign language,” Spanish teacher Martha Shahin said.
Survey of Spanish 1 would be a year-long class. There also would be a survey of Spanish 2 class that would fulfill the requirement for the second year.
“The two full years will be more equal to what we do in Spanish 1, in the traditional class,” Shahin said. “It will be slower and the material will be somewhat easier.”
With the introduction of these survey courses, the point level of Spanish 2 is set to change. Spanish 1, survey of Spanish 1 and survey of Spanish 2 will all be offered as .2 classes. However, Spanish 2 will be increased to the .3, or accelerated, level.
“The traditional Spanish 1 and 2 goes at a pretty quick pace,” Shahin said. “It’s fairly demanding.”
The survey of Spanish classes will be offered at the middle schools as well.
Currently, the department isn’t seeing the expected increase in world language class enrollment in middle school. This just means the jump in numbers may occur later in high school for the class of 2016 and classes following. Students may realize their graduating class has a world language requirement once they enter high school.
“We kind of hoped last year we would see a spike at the middle school in enrollment, and we didn’t,” Smith said.
Smith and other teachers would like to see students taking a language in middle school to continue their language education in high school.
“We hope we hook them, and we can increase our enrollment,” Smith said.
Although language class sizes will most likely increase in coming years, there is no plan to expand the world language department at this point.
Smith noted that his IB German class currently has 35 students, which is quite a full classroom for him as it is.
“I would think that if enrollment grows, the class sizes would get bigger before the district would then hire new staff in,” Smith said.
The department is also anticipating the challenges of their classes suddenly becoming required courses.
“Up until now, students have more or less taken the language because they chose to take it,” Smith said.
This concern will most likely affect teachers, who will have to cater their lesson plans to meet the needs of lower-achieving students and motivate those who may not necessarily want to be in the class.
Although the change in graduation requirements brings mixed feelings and concerns in world language teachers, they are hoping the new requirement will go over smoothly, and are preparing to help those students who may have difficulties.
“I think it’s a good thing that students are being asked to spend some time with a different language and a different culture,” Smith said.