Dover, Sherborn study adding Spanish at kindergarten level

Kindergartners in Dover and Sherborn will be learning Spanish in their classrooms next September if a plan first initiated by passionate parents four years ago is passed by the local school boards.

The Elementary World Language Committee will take its proposal before the Dover and Sherborn school committees on Dec. 11. The plan calls for integrating Spanish into the kindergarten curriculum for 20 minutes four days a week during the next school year, and then expanding it over the following five years to include a half-hour of Spanish instruction in grades 1 through 5.

Once those students head to the Dover-Sherborn Middle School, which currently offers the district’s first opportunity to study a foreign language, they would be expected to be speaking at about the eighth-grade level, and would have the choice to continue Spanish or move to a third language.

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“Our first task was to determine whether adding a world language would give us an impact on student achievement,” said Theresa Nugent, principal of the Chickering Elementary School in Dover and chairwoman of the language committee.

“I truly believe that, yes, it will have a very positive impact,” she said.

She said studies have shown a direct link between studying a second language early in life and improved math and English test scores.

“When you start connecting the dots, you really begin to see a strong impact on student achievement,” she said.

Dover parent Tammy Goldfisher, who started the process rolling when she made the proposal to the Chickering School Council in 2008, says it’s also about educating young children to be confident people ready to go out into a diverse world.

“You need to look beyond your own ZIP code,” she said. “I am very passionate about this because I just don’t think we have any other choice. It’s not about being competitive, it’s about keeping up.”

Goldfisher, whose children are already in school and will not benefit from the program, said the plan has not met much opposition, but people have questions.

“There’s been hesitation,” she said.

The two main concerns involve the cost of hiring new staff, and fitting the new curriculum into an already packed school day.

The proposal calls for hiring one teacher for the next school year who would travel between the four kindergarten classrooms in Dover and three in Sherborn, conducting oral instruction entirely in Spanish. A curriculum for the kindergarten students would also have to be developed, as well as the curriculum for the students reaching first grade the following year and each grade after that.

Once the program is entirely up and running, it is anticipated that there would be a need for four full-time teachers and another part-time teacher to cover all the classrooms in the two schools, according to Barbara A. Brown, principal of the Pine Hill Elementary School in Sherborn. She said the average salary for teachers in Dover and Sherborn is $80,000 a year.

State curriculum guidelines and other programs in the elementary schools already make for a packed day, even for kindergartners who this year are for the first time going for the entire day in Dover and Sherborn.

“Fitting this into the school day is one of the sticking points,” Brown said.

But Nugent emphasized that while Spanish will be added and time on something else will be cut, it will not be done at the expense of any core curriculum. Instead, it will be integrated into the lesson plans.

“This is enriching and reinforcing what we are already doing,” she said.

Nugent said her committee has received a lot of help on implementing the plan from administrators in other towns where they are already teaching a second language in elementary schools.

Brookline, for example, began teaching a second language in all eight elementary classrooms in 2009, although it had offered Chinese at the Driscoll School for the past 12 years. Holliston also offers a second language in elementary grades, as does Millis, according to Nugent. The Wellesley public schools had taught Spanish to elementary students until budget cuts ended the program in 2005.

According to Brown, the curriculum in the Dover and Sherborn elementary schools already surpasses state guidelines, and the school calendar covers 182 days, two more than required by the state.

The committee considered adding French or Mandarin Chinese to the elementary curriculum but decided on Spanish because it the second most-spoken language in the country, according to Brown.

In addition to noting the academic benefits of the language program, the principals cited the added cultural awareness it will give students.

Students today are very different than those of just 10 years ago, Nugent said.

“They have access to technology that they never had before. They come in with an interest and imagination that is global,” she said. “I believe this program will have benefits that we haven’t even thought of yet.”

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