North Carolina: Will language courses squeeze out the arts?

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Sat Jan 26 15:44:30 UTC 2008

 Will language courses squeeze out the arts?New three-year rule is formiddle-schoolers
By Danielle DeaverJOURNAL REPORTERFriday, January 25, 2008

Middle-school students will have to take three years of foreignlanguage starting next year, a new requirement that has some parentsworried about the effect on arts education. The foreign-languagerequirement, which will start with next year's incoming sixth-graders,will take up one elective slot for all students. Another will be takenby a mandatory physical-education class, leaving two elective slots inwhich students can take classes in the arts, career and technologyeducation and other subjects. But students who want to participate inband or chorus in eighth grade will face a choice. Band and chorusclasses meet for two elective periods in eighth grade. With thelanguage and physical education electives, that will leave no time forband or chorus students to take electives in other subjects they areinterested in.
School officials said they are still working out the details of thepolicy. Some students, such as those enrolled in study-skills classes,may be exempt from the requirement, Superintendent Don Martin said.Members of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school board will discussthe policy again at their retreat Tuesday. School officials said thatthe new language requirement will help students earn high-schoolcredits in foreign language and learn a skill that will be valuable inthe global economy. "One of the state-board goals - and as a result,our school-system goal - is graduating students who are prepared for aglobal economy, and with the way that society and the business worldhas changed, students have to have knowledge of a foreign language,"said Leslie Baldwin, the school system's program specialist forforeign languages. "It doesn't matter anymore whether a student isgoing to college or going straight on to the work force. These skillsare needed."
Parents, however, have their concerns. Dee Oseroff-Varnell, theorganizer of the group Forsyth Advocates for Musical Education and amother of three high-school students, said she is concerned about thenew foreign-language requirement. "If they don't have a choice, if itis going to be mandatory at the expense of some other classes theymight want to take, I'm not sure I agree with that," she said.The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school system is one of the few inthe state that still teaches foreign language in its elementaryschools. Students in third, fourth and fifth grade receive 90 minutesof instruction every week. School officials said that by requiringmiddle-school students to take a foreign language, they will ensurethat the skills that were learned in elementary school aren'tforgotten.
The requirement also takes advantage of a new state regulation. TheState Board of Education changed its policies in May to allow studentsto get high-school credit for foreign-language classes they take inmiddle school, as long as the classes meet the requirements, saidHelga Fasciano, the section chief with K-12 programs for foreignlanguage. "It is still up to each district to determine how they'regoing to do that and whether they are going to do that,'' Fascianosaid. "Winston-Salem is being innovative in how they're looking atthat." At the high-school level, students are required to take twoyears of classes in the same foreign language if they are taking theuniversity/college course of study. Students who take foreign-languageclasses in middle school and earn high-school credit may free a slotin high school for an additional elective class. Taking the course inmiddle school also allows students, if they choose, to take anadvanced language class in high school.
The school board has been debating the foreign-language requirementfor middle schools for about a year. Some members, such as JeannieMetcalf, have voiced concerns similar to Oseroff-Varnell's. "I don'twant kids to have to give up something they really want to do to takeforeign language," Metcalf said during a discussion at a school-boardretreat earlier this month. Metcalf suggested that school officialslook into alternative scheduling or different ways of teaching foreignlanguage. Other board members pointed out that research has shown thatstudents learn language more easily when they're young, so themiddle-school requirement is a good idea.
"You absorb it so naturally and quickly," board-member ElisabethMotsinger said. Board members have acknowledged the pressures that thelanguage requirements will place on the arts, as have school officialsand parents. If middle-school students have to choose between takingband or two other electives in eighth grade, it's possible that somewill choose to skip the music class, which could end up hurtinghigh-school bands, said Ian Hargis, the director of bands at ReynoldsHigh School. "I do think it will have a direct impact on enrollment,"Hargis said. "If they don't have band every day at least in the eighthgrade, it makes it very, very hard for us to have the quality highschool bands that we've gotten used to."
Middle-school music classes are important, he said. "The middle-schoolteachers are the ones who really teach the kids how to play music,"Hargis said.
■ Danielle Deaver can be reached at 727-7279 or at ddeaver at

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