By Bob Skolnik
Riverside Elementary School District 96 will once again consider whether to expand foreign language instruction in the district. Currently the district offers seventh- and eighth-graders the option of taking Spanish or French as an elective.
The district has in the past considered expanding foreign language instruction. In 2013 the school board, which had three brand new members, unanimously rejected a proposal from the then-administration to expand foreign language instruction by teaching Spanish in the elementary schools starting in first grade and then expanding the instruction through fifth grade.
Since the 2013 decision, the issue of expanding foreign language instruction has been largely on hold, although the district's strategic plan, adopted in 2016, includes the goal of expanding foreign language instruction from kindergarten through eighth grade.
The first step for the district now is to determine whether there is time in the school day to add foreign language instruction to the elementary school day without taking away time from instruction in core subjects.
"It really becomes an issue of looking at all the required subject matter, how many minutes those things are taught," said District 96 Superintendent Martha Ryan-Toye. "If we look at our instructional time and realize that in and of itself it would be a challenge, then maybe it doesn't continue on in terms of next steps. We're going to take it one step at a time."
If district officials determine there is time to expand foreign language instruction without hurting instruction in key subjects and meeting state mandates, then the district would look at what kind of foreign language instruction to add.
If a foreign language is taught in the elementary schools it would probably be Spanish.
"It would be hard to offer multiple languages at the elementary level," Ryan-Toye said.
Another possibility is expanding foreign language instruction to just sixth grade, an idea that school board President Jeff Miller expressed interest in at the Dec. 6 school board meeting.
Instructional time is also an issue at L.J. Hauser Junior High School. Currently, seventh- or eighth-graders who take a foreign language and are in either band or orchestra have no time in their schedules to take any other elective classes, because Hauser and extended periods in English, Language Arts and math.
At their Dec. 6 meeting, school board members David Barsotti, Shari Klyber, and Lynda Murphy expressed strong interest in teaching a foreign language to elementary school students.
Barsotti and Klyber pointed out that research shows that younger kids have an easier time learning a new language. Murphy liked to idea of promoting cultural awareness.