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Matawan/Aberdeen proposing changes to World Language program

Staff Writer

ABERDEEN — The World Language Department in the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School district is exploring some changes that would increase and enrich students’ exposure to Spanish, French, Italian and Latin.

“The World Language Committee collaborated throughout this year regarding the program in which we conducted a needs assessment, looked at best practices through research, conducted some site visits and looked at a couple of model World Language programs and then went back and compared them to what we already have in place here [in the district],” said Jessie Zitarosa, director of K-12 Humanities, at a June 13 Board of Education meeting.

According to World Language teacher Margaret Lathrop, the idea behind the proposed changes is to encourage students to become involved with a language sooner and hopefully stay studying that language longer.

“Spanish begins at the elementary level with periodic exposure in the K-2 levels through the curriculum at large, and then [students] begin regular weekly instruction in foreign language for third, fourth and fifth grades,” she said.

“Moving up to middle school they can choose to continue Spanish or have the option of choosing from French or Italian.

“In sixth grade they choose two options and explore one marking period of each before committing to one language for seventh and eighth grade.”

According to Lathrop, students have the option in high school to continue the language they studied in middle school or can switch to whichever of the two they did not take and even have the additional option of Latin.

“[We] would [like] to investigate the possibility of increasing staff at the elementary level, which would allow us to have a more specific time designated [program] for kindergarten through fifth grade by having 40 minutes devoted to Spanish once a week,” Zitarosa said.

“By the end of middle school, we would like the students to have committed … to three full years [of the same language], which would be two marking periods per year of the same language.”

By the end of eighth grade, students will have received the equivalent of one full year of exposure to a language, or completion of a Level I course.

This will enable students to take a total of five years in a chosen language by the completion of high school and potentially qualify for an AP-level course.

According to Lathrop, if students stick with their chosen language from middle school, they will have the possibility of taking Level II-IV and AP courses in high school, but if students switch to another language they will have the option to take courses in Levels I-IV.

World Language teacher Teresa Downey said in high school students are still taking two years of a language as part of their requirement for graduation, and the introduction of the Global Humanities Academy next year will see the World Language program integrated with it.

“As [students] learn more and branch out … they get a little more creative, start to learn some spontaneity … learn to describe on their own, ask and answer and really use their own knowledge to build their own communication,” said Downey.

While all proposed changes might not be implemented right away for the 2016-2017 school year, Zitarosa said the committee would like to continue working together, collaborating and investigating some of the opportunities that the district can make going into future school years.

“In addition, going into next year we would like to investigate and see if there are after-school enrichment opportunities that would target students more on cultural elements,” she said. “There’s a cultural experience that goes with the study of a world language.”

She added the committee would also like to continue researching online resources that can be made available so students who enjoy studying a language may further explore on their own.

“The World Language Committee brought a lot to the table with the needs assessment, and there’s further data we’d like to review as we perhaps start to implement some of these elements and continue to conduct site visits,” Zitarosa said.

“One of the great opportunities that we had this year was to [become involved] with model World Language programs to learn more about them and about what some of the requirements are to be recognized as one, and that allowed us to speak with members of other districts and we would like to go further and explore some of the best practices there.”

Board of Education member Joelle Nappi said she is looking forward to seeing the changes made to the program.

“I’m very happy to hear this presentation and hear that we’re going to expand our foreign language offerings,” she said. “This is something I have been asking about for a long time. I’m happy [students] are going to spend more time potentially taking a foreign language because one of the problems with the five-cycle rotation [we offer now] … there’s no continuity of language.”

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