Schools - July 23, 2008

Woodside school suspends Spanish for grades 1-4

by Andrea Gemmet

Primary grade students at Woodside Elementary School will get extra time for music and physical education next year because they won't be taking Spanish classes.

The Woodside school board voted to suspend its twice-a-week Spanish lessons for grades 1-4 following last month's resignation of Spanish teacher Maria Teresa Magana. The vote was 5-0 at the board's July 15 special meeting.

Board members said they wanted to take some time to rethink the program before reintroducing it, possibly as soon as mid-school year.

The board directed district staff to work with Woodside's Parent Teacher Organization to arrange for after-school Spanish lessons to be offered in the interim.

Spanish will still be taught to middle school students.

"We are temporarily taking a break from Spanish," said board member Ellen Ablow at the meeting.

One parent at the meeting complained about Spanish lessons being compulsory for all students when he preferred to have his children focus on English skills. Having his kids acquire a foreign language is at the bottom of his list of priorities, he told the board.

Another parent said that, while he loved the idea of Spanish classes for primary-grade students, he and other parents felt their children didn't really learn any Spanish until they reached middle school.

Susan Arbuckle, a parent and school volunteer, said that the Spanish program focuses on cultural exposure and preparing students to study the language more intensely when they are older. Parents, however, expect their children to be able to order in Spanish at a restaurant or know how to ask to go to the bathroom, she said.

"I think parents have a misconception of what kids are expected to learn," she said. "We've done a poor job of explaining (the program) to parents."

At the meeting, the board rejected a proposal put forward by Dan Vinson to only eliminate Spanish for grades 1-2. Then-superintendent Vinson put together the recommendation before his retirement in mid-June.

"Eliminating (Spanish) in grades 1-2, and having it in grades 3-4 seems arbitrary and very difficult to defend to the community," said board President Bettina Pike, who was out of town and attended the meeting via phone.

Board members directed staff to schedule a study session on the Spanish program during the coming school year.


Posted by mom, a resident of Woodside: other
on Jul 28, 2008 at 2:40 pm

From what I've read, age 3-5 is the ideal time to introduce a 2nd language. Waiting until middle school prevents most from every become fluent.

Posted by Mama, a resident of Woodside: Woodside Glens
on Jul 29, 2008 at 1:04 pm

Good ol' Google has a book online on this very topic:
Web Link

Posted by Martin Engel, a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jul 29, 2008 at 7:20 pm

On this planet, every school kid learns a second language. In fact, many kids overseas speak better English than we do here. Our kids in the US, of course, don't need to learn another language since we are the best, the most powerful, the biggest, the richest, have the most stuff, etc.

Posted by Are you kidding???, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 29, 2008 at 8:55 pm

Yes. I agree with these folks. The schools in super wealthy Woodside should be teaching spanish as early as possible so that the kids can communicate with the hired help. Esta muy importante tener la abilidad hablar con sus empleados. Music? Physical education? Pish posh. Get a grip folks. I learned Spanish as an adult, and music will do more to enlighten these young minds than concentrating on one language. Do they offer French, German, Arabic or Chinese to kids so young? Teach them an instrument, make them run around a bit (fighting obesity) and they will be much richer for the experience. Just a thought.

Posted by Parla Bene, a resident of Woodside: other
on Jul 30, 2008 at 1:00 pm

Q: What do you call a person who can speak two languages?
A: Bilingual

Q: So what do you call a person who speaks only one language?
A: American

Posted by A Concerned Parent, a resident of Woodside: other
on Aug 1, 2008 at 9:52 am

The first paragraph of this article gives the wrong impression on readers. It reads like our kids didn't have enough time for music or physical education because they were forced to learn Spanish instead. The reality is there are plenty of time and programs for music and PE at WES as it is, and also enough time to give our children the opportunity to learn a second language and enhance their lives. So, the Spanish program didn't really have to be cut. As a person who speaks multiple languages I can say that there are a number of benefits to learning additional languages. Our children learn to communicate with people from other countries, get exposed to new cultures, and learn to easily relate to people from other countries. In addition, learning a new language helps our children exercise their brains and improve their overall learning ability. I also don't buy the theories about the right age to learn a language. I learned my second language when I was 4, third language when I was 12, and additional languages after I was over 20. Contrary to common belief, I don't just use my language skills to communicate to the hired help at home, but I use them in business, helping out friends with translations, and when I travel abroad. In summary, it's very unfortunate to suspend the Spanish program at WES for 1 - 4 grades and deny our children this great learning experience.

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