CHAMPAIGN – Parents and students say they won't let administrators downgrade foreign language programs without a protest.
More than 120 parents and youths jammed the school board meeting room Monday to express concern about the discontinuation of German studies at the middle schools and other changes they said penalize students who want to learn languages early.
Another chief bone of contention: the elimination of Jefferson Middle School's seventh-grade exploratory program and language studies there that continued in both seventh and eighth grades – a change made so Jefferson's program would be identical to those in the other two middle schools, where language is taught only in eighth grade.
Parent Ruth Craddock said her son signed up for German this year, but when he arrived at school this fall, he found out there would be no German language taught.
"The program enriched the education process for two of my children," Craddock said. "The third won't have the chance. He signed up in seventh grade, but the first week of eighth grade, he was put in a science tech class. There was lack of communication about this issue."
Daniel Rolando, a senior at Centennial, said starting language studies in middle school enhances opportunities to understand a language better in high school and to place in advanced classes in college.
"Knowing a second language also enhances job skills," Rolando said.
Craddock asked the board to come up with a plan to recruit language teachers for the middle schools and suggested members consider pooling students from all three schools if numbers are too low for a class at each.
"There seems to be indifference on the administration's part in solving this," she said. "It doesn't make sense to offer languages as enrichment at Westview (elementary) School then let it die in middle school."
"I'm ashamed that there's not more foreign language taught because we have the University of Illinois and many different ethnicities in this community," Rhonda Hedrington said. "History is not all English."
"This issue's not going away," said board President Scott Anderson at the end of the discussion. "I hope the administration will look at ways to implement language classes in the middle schools. The rationale for reducing it was cost-benefit, not effectiveness. The board is responsible for determining where the cuts fall."
Superintendent Arthur Culver later said the German class was cut because there weren't enough students enrolled to justify teaching it. He asked interim Franklin Middle School Principal Carol Stack to review the yearlong discussions that preceded the elimination of Jefferson's extended language instruction.
Stack said she conducted comparisons between Franklin, where language was taught only in eighth grade, and Jefferson, and determined that Franklin students did as well in their second year high school language classes as Jefferson students did. "Our kids held their own," Stack said.
Greg Novak, head of the Champaign teachers union and a Jefferson librarian, suggested Stack should also have looked into how many Franklin students qualified for second-year language classes compared to the number of Jefferson students who did.
"I'm sure the Franklin students who went to level two did fine, but most didn't go to level two," Novak said.