Local: Education

Fairfax school leaders look to create pathway for foreign language

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Local,Virginia,Education,Rachel Baye,Fairfax County

Fairfax County school leaders are considering changes that would bolster students' ability to study a foreign language from elementary school through high school without disruption.

Fairfax County Public Schools offers some kind of foreign language instruction during the school day at 40 elementary schools and countywide at middle and high schools. Some other elementary schools offer foreign languages before or after school in programs run by their parent-teacher associations.

But often students who study a language in elementary school are unable to continue learning that language in higher grades because the school feeds into a middle or high school that doesn't offer it.

An advisory committee's report is slated to be discussed at Thursday's School Board meeting. As Fairfax County Public Schools continues to move toward its goal of expanding language offerings at elementary schools, the committee recommended the school system also create a pathway for students to continue studying a single language, rather than having to jump from one language to another without gaining fluency, said Carol Horn, the schools' coordinator of Advanced Academic Programs in K-12.

"There are people from Mason District that participate in a German-language elementary program for which there is no German offered at middle school," said Tara Rethore, an FCPS parent who represented Mason District on the advisory committee.

Students who attend the Spanish-language immersion program at Bailey's Elementary School for the Arts and Sciences in Falls Church can continue their immersion program only at Poe Middle in Annandale, and if they don't live in the district, there's not always space, Rethore said. The students who study Arabic at Beech Tree Elementary are hard-pressed to continue it in middle and high school.

Since Mason District is the only part of the county where the sixth grade is part of middle school, seventh-grade Spanish is a repeat of the introduction that many sixth-graders take, the committee's report details.

Even students who learned a year or two of French or Spanish before middle school lack a way to continue their studies.

For Beverly Jurenko, who also sat on the advisory committee, enrolling her seventh-grade daughter in French next year will mean she has to relearn the years of French she studied while living in Belgium or leave Kilmer Middle to attend a high school class in the middle of the school day, which would not have been easy. The school doesn't offer any languages for seventh-graders.

"It would be fairly easy to offer another elective in the seventh grade, which is French I," Jurenko said. "Why not offer a second-year language for eighth-graders for those that have completed seventh grade ... just making sure that there's a logical step from A to B to C."

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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