Parents get an education on language |

Parents get an education on language

ASPEN – Students at Aspen Elementary School spend one class period every six days studying Spanish. It’s not much time, especially for a young child.

“But some parents still wonder why their fourth-grader isn’t fluent,” said Julia Roark, assistant superintendent for the Aspen School District. “That’s not what the program is about. The purpose is for exposure … to help the child realize they can learn a foreign language.

“This gives them confidence and sets them up for success at middle school and beyond.”

In fact, the way foreign language is taught at Aspen Elementary is part of a districtwide world-language curriculum, which was outlined at an Aspen Board of Education communication forum last week. It was an effort to educate parents on what realistic expectations for children studying a foreign language are and share progress the foreign-language department has made on aligning its three schools’ curricula.

Referring to the latter, Roark said, “Our goal is to create a more seamless transition, especially between middle school and high school. Much of what we have been focusing on is collaboration.”

For example, middle and high school foreign-language teachers have been observing one another’s classrooms to learn how they are structured. And in May, high school teachers will talk with eighth-grade students about what they can expect in high school foreign-language classes. And everyone is trying to make sure parents know where their children should be in terms of fluency.

“It’s hard to believe, but under Colorado Department of Education standards, no student will graduate and be fully fluent in a foreign language,” Roark said.

This includes those who are part of the rigorous International Baccalaureate program in Spanish or French.

“But this doesn’t mean our students don’t excel in world languages,” Roark said.

In fact, 100 percent of students who took the International Baccalaureate Spanish exam passed, and 93 percent of those who took the French International Baccalaureate test passed.

“These are impressive numbers. And our alumni always tells us they felt well-prepared for college-level language classes,” Roark said. “But for a student to be fluent when they leave high school, you need an immersion program.”

And this, Roark said, comes down to priorities. Currently, Aspen High School students are required to take two years of a foreign language. Most students take more, and many enroll in International Baccalaureate courses. Those who are really passionate about foreign languages can study both Spanish and French. Beyond that, the district’s hands are somewhat tied.

“It’s really about resources. … It’s about how much time we devote to teaching world languages,” Roark said. “If we were to increase this, what would we have to take away?

“We have to look at the big picture.”

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