Archive for Friday, October 8, 1999

SEVENTH-GRADE MAY GET INTERNATIONAL FLAVOR

October 8, 1999

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The Lawrence school board will be asked to require that seventh-graders get a taste of German, French and/or Spanish in class.

Bonjour!

Mi escuela es una maravilla.

Deutsch macht Spass!

Students in the Lawrence school district would learn how to untangle those sentences under a recommendation that the district's seventh-graders begin taking a course that delves into French, Spanish and German or a course that focuses exclusively on one of those languages.

The idea is included in a package of proposed course adjustments to be delivered Monday to the Lawrence school board. The board is responsible for revisions to the curriculum. Currently, there is no foreign language requirement at the district's junior highs or high schools.

"Students actually love foreign languages. They're fascinated by culture," said Nettie Collins-Hart, assistant superintendent of instruction and curriculum.

But Collins-Hart said enrollment in the district's language courses tended to tail off as students progressed to more advanced levels. The proposed requirement -- for a one-semester course that would begin in fall 2000 -- aims to enlarge the pool of students prepared for language courses in the eighth grade and make better use of the district's language teachers.

The district enrolls about 800 seventh-graders annually in its four junior high schools.

Students would be exposed to Spanish, French and German language, culture and geography in the required course, said Asst. Supt. Randy Weseman. There would be no expectation that students be fluent after one introductory semester.

"It gives them a framework to understand what it means to learn a language," Weseman said.

West Junior High School Principal Mick Lowe said he supported any effort to make students aware of new languages.

"I don't think we've been aggressive enough in trying to make sure that happens," he said.

The idea earned endorsements from scholars in language departments at Kansas University.

"It goes without saying that we're living in a global economy," said William Keel, professor and chair of the Germanic languages and literatures. "All you have to do is look around Lawrence and see the presence of companies with an international focus."

Multinational companies are drawn to potential employees with specialized language skills, Keel said. Students without a second language might miss career opportunities.

"It behooves us to start that training as soon as possible," Keel said.

John Sweets, interim chair of French and Italian, said Americans could close cultural gaps with the rest of the world by studying multiple languages.

"Introduction at an early age to different cultures is important," he said. "Languages not only give people communication skills ... but there's also a substantial cultural component."

-- Tim Carpenter's phone message number is 832-7155. His e-mail address is tcarpenter@ljworld.com.

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