Garden City, NY: School Board Shines Spotlight On World Language

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Sat Jun 14 17:33:59 UTC 2008

School Board Shines Spotlight On World Language
By Stephanie Mariel Petrellese

The focus was on the world language department on Monday evening as
the Garden City Board of Education and public listened to a
presentation led by Peter Giacalone, the department's district
coordinator, at the board's work session. Giacalone interjected his
curriculum review with results of a recent survey sent via to 160 Garden City residents concerning the
district's world language program. His use of the survey and analysis
of data was applauded by Superintendent Dr. Robert Feirsen. "I think
it is very illuminating to see whether or not the things that we think
are actually borne out by the data," he said.

Giacalone expressed dismay that world language is often not considered
to be a core subject, on par with math, English, social studies and
science. However, he was pleased that 58.7 percent of parents placed a
high priority on the study of world languages in their child's
academic development. Thirty-two percent consider it a moderate
priority and 9.3 said it is low on their priority scale.
Due to the community's interest in introducing foreign language to
younger children, the Foreign Language in the Elementary Schools
program, known as FLES, was introduced in October of 2005. Spanish is
now taught in grades two through five. Representatives from the Cold
Spring Harbor School District recently visited Garden City to learn
about the district's FLES program. According to Giacalone, they were
very impressed and plan to implement a similar program in their

An overwhelmingly large percentage of those surveyed, 74.7 percent,
said they are aware of the types of technology teachers and students
are using both in and outside of the classroom. Giacalone said his
department is using the SMART Board interactive whiteboard, as well as
iPods. A mini-language lab has been created in the Garden City High
School library where students can utilize CDs, tapes and wireless
headsets. A SMART Board is a touch-sensitive display that connects to
a computer and digital projector to show the computer image. The user
can control computer applications directly from the display and write
notes in digital ink. They are being used by teachers in the middle
and high schools in various subjects.

The district currently offers French, German, Italian, Latin and
Spanish. When asked in the survey what language they would like to see
implemented as an elective, 42.3 percent said Mandarin Chinese. Greek
was next at 15.3 percent, followed by Japanese (13.5 percent). Some
residents responded that they do not want another language offered
(8.5 percent). The bottom three, Arabic, Farsi-Persian and Russian,
were tied at 6.8 percent each. The district is offering Mandarin
Chinese as an enrichment course for middle school students this
summer. However, less than five students have registered so far.

Teachers in the world language department help students move from
vocabulary recognition to proficient communication, which involves
being able to read, speak, listen and write. While many students
become proficient in a language, they rarely reach the level of
fluency due to several factors, including lack of constant exposure,
class time constraints, schedules and practice.

Giacalone would like to increase enrollment in Advanced Placement
language courses, which are considered by many students to be too
daunting. Their hesitancy is not unfounded: AP exam descriptions for
courses in French, German and Spanish place the exam at a third-year
level college course. The Spanish AP is at a level of a third-year
college course in advanced Spanish. Italian and Latin AP exams are
commensurate to a fourth semester college class.

Compare this to descriptions for other AP courses, such as Biology,
Chemistry, English literature and Composition, Music Theory,
Psychology, Statistics and U.S./World History, where the exam is at an
introductory college class level, and it is clear why students are
apprehensive about taking a world language AP class. The department
plans to increase enrollment by continuing to publicize the importance
of language study and place less emphasis on the actual exam. It is
possible they may implement an open enrollment policy in the future.

The district is currently exploring the possibility of implementing an
International Baccalaureate (IB) Program, which consists of either a
certificate program for students who take individual courses, or a
diploma program for students who complete core requirements. Students
explore six academic areas, as they also work to complete three
central core elements. The six areas include two modern languages; a
humanities or social science subject; an experimental science;
mathematics; and one of the creative arts.

The Board of Education is expected to approve funding at their meeting
on June 16th so that teachers and administrators will be allowed to
attend professional development Level 1 workshops given by the IB
Organization. Since starting as superintendent in 2005, one of Dr.
Robert Feirsen's goals has been to find a systematized way of looking
at curriculum to ensure that it is aligned with what is learned in the
classroom. Several things influence curriculum, including budget,
state mandates, developmental needs, what we know about learning,
college/work requirements, community expectations and standards.

"Each one of these presentations is evolving in a nice direction," Dr.
Feirsen said. Dr. Feirsen has been integrating five phases of the
curriculum cycle into the school district. The first phase, which is
known as the "spotlight year," is a time to collect and organize
information. In phase II, the data is reviewed and analyzed and a
strategic plan is established. The third phase involves actual
implementation. In phase IV, implementation continues, but is closely
monitored and adjustments are made. Phase V is a time to evaluate and

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