Seize the bilingual opportunity

You may not speak a word of that language you studied for four years in high school but your son or daughter, as a student in Ashland schools, has the opportunity and the right to be bilingual.

With the potential arrival of 300 new students in the district, the rare opportunity to improve and develop new programs at our schools is here and should be seized — by the community.

This is the ideal moment for a second-language immersion program to be developed and implemented in the Ashland School District, and for our students to become better educated world citizens ready to go to work in a multicultural, multi-ethnic society.

I am a veteran of educational task forces and curriculum committees. More recently, I was on the "ASD foreign language task force to (almost) nowhere."

For two years, students, teachers, parents and other community members researched and studied immersion and bilingual programs around the country. Our leadership was good (Michele Zundell) and community participation (parents wanting a foreign language or immersion program for their children) was encouraging.

For two years we looked at the kinds of programs that could or should be offered in the district, but we always came back to the same issues: would there be district support and would the district fight to be allowed to bring in seasoned teachers — ones able to speak the language fluently, educated in language acquisition theory, and experienced with the program they would be asked to teach?

To be honest, I spent most of those meetings feeling that we were probably wasting our time because the district was not really committed (at the time) to designing and implementing an exemplary second-language program. Hopefully, the time we spent then can actually influence the decision-making process that is presently going on, as to how to accommodate 300 new students and select the teaching staff that will be needed.

I recognize the problem or resentment that this idea may present to many teachers here in the valley who have been laid off, who only have part-time hours and would like more. But to create an excellent second-language program, the district needs to do whatever it takes (traditional hiring practices be damned) and recruit and hire only new teachers (and this must be more than one of the same training and philosophy because you don't create a program on one person's expertise) who are near-native speakers in the language we as a community want to see selected — be it Spanish, French, Chinese, Arabic, etc. — and who are highly trained in full-immersion programs both for elementary and secondary schools in the United States.

You cannot patchwork a real language program with teachers who are neither language proficient themselves nor trained in the kinds of programs you want to see established. This is meant as a warning about a current practice of bringing in foreign teachers who have not been trained to teach in our schools, with our student population, and who do not speak English. This practice can work as long as the curriculum and program are in place and a knowledgeable, bi-lingual mentor or supervisor is at hand to work regularly with staff, curriculum committees and parents.

I hope the community will be excited about this potential for our children and get actively involved now.

Wouldn't it be great if our young people graduated from Ashland High School bilingual? It is possible, if there is a common belief that it is "good and necessary" that our students be educated-bilingual-world citizens.

Donna Hertz lives in Ashland.

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