Saline Area Schools will begin teaching Spanish in its three K-3 elementary schools starting next fall.
Assistant Superintendent Steve Laatsch made the announcement at the Foundation for Saline Area Schools spring reception held Thursday evening at Stone Arch Arts & Events.
In support of the new curriculum, the Foundation for Saline Area Schools presented a $75,000 check to the district. The $75,000 grant is in addition to $19,500 in mini-grants awarded to 19 different Saline Area Schools educational programs this year.
Superintendent Scot Graden said the $75,000, which will be used to buy materials and technology for the new curriculum, makes the initiative possible.
“The foundation’s support is critical. For the last four years, they’ve given to initiatives that we wouldn’t have been able to do without their support,” Graden said. “The language program at the elementary school is something we’ve talked about in the past. We’ve done our research; we know we want to do it. But to be able to do it in these economic times, we wouldn’t have been able to do it without the help of the foundation. The Foundation for Saline Area Schools is making a difference in an environment where every little bit counts.”
The district chose Spanish over Mandarin Chinese, French and German. About 70 percent of 1,100 residents surveyed chose Spanish when asked which language the district should teach. Mandarin Chinese was second, with 14 percent. Laatsch said “Love of Language” committee working on the initiative was more evenly divided between Spanish and Mandarin.
Patti Tanner was one of the committee members who favored Mandarin. She said learning Mandarin would teach children a new way of visualizing language.
“We had a teacher come in to show us the language. The teacher drew one character for a tree, and then three characters for forest. I think that would be very beneficial for a young child, particularly one who might not be academically inclined, but artistically inclined,” Tanner said. “I also think that teaching Mandarin would have been innovative and different.”
But in the end, Tanner said she was clad to be part of a process that has the potential to be very beneficial for students.
“Everyone involved in the committee was very engaged and passionate,” Tanner said.
Graden said that Spanish lessons would begin next year for students in kindergarten through grade three. The next year, the language would expand to fourth grade at Heritage, and then to fifth grade the following year. After that, Graden said, students have the ability to take foreign languages in middle school and high school.
Laatsch said young students will have the opportunity to become fluent if they continue to study Spanish in middle and high school.
“The kids who stick with it will have the opportunity to become very proficient in their skills. The younger students (K-3) are like sponges and can absorb more,” Laatsch said. “We’re excited about this.”
Laatsch said the school district’s survey asked parents why they supported the language they picked.
“It was nearly universal,” Laatsch said. “Parents said they wanted better opportunities for their kids. That doesn’t necessarily mean career opportunities, although that’s a big part of it. But also the opportunity to travel and experience other cultures.”
Educationally, there are other key advantages, Laatsch said. Saline Area Schools is adopting the “Foreign Language in the Elementary School” approach to language learning. The approach is said to develop basic skills in language while reinforcing and content in other subjects. Research shows the early study of a second language results in cognitive benefits, gains in academic achievement, and increases in self-esteem, creativity, and positive attitudes toward diversity.
Foundation for Saline Area Schools President Cheryl Hoeft thanked donors for their support. Hoeft said the foundation has already begun fundraising for mini-grants. The strategic grant campaign has not yet been selected. In 2012, the foundation raised $70,000 for the Kids Who Read Succeed campaign to buy new classroom libraries. In 2011, the foundation raised $65,000 for the Project Lead the Way Science, Technology, Engineering and Math curriculum at Saline Middle School. In 2010, the foundation contributed $40,000 to a project that gave 360 Heritage Elementary students to laptop computers.
Hoeft called on the community to continue to support the foundation.
Joe Thompson, President of Roush CleanTech and parent of kids in Saline schools, said he appreciates what the district offers and is happy to support efforts to make the schools even better. Thompson said his dad was superintendent in an Ohio school district that struggled to find classroom space for all its students as farm land converted to residential subdivisions.
“A lot of the problems the district faced involved just finding some place for all the kids. Never once did I ever hear conversation about how to offer new programs like world languages to the students,” Thompson said. “I think we have one expectation of Saline Area Schools, and that’s to teach our children to learn how to be lifelong learners. And to further that, I’m proud to be a donor to the foundation.”
The reception was sponsored by Stone Arch Arts & Events, Great Lakes Educational Group, Mac’s Acadian Seafood Shack and Tippins Market.