Early foreign language learning returns to Loudoun through Language Stars
Foreign language programs in schools across the United States have suffered a heavy blow in recent years due to budget cuts. Loudoun County is no different.
Last year, Loudoun County Public Schools made the decision to cut its elementary school language programs. That pushes student focus on language to the seventh grade on.
Language Stars, a foreign language program for children, wants to bring early language learning back to Loudoun County.
“We're still losing these programs through lack of teacher funding or lack of resources,” said Language Stars National Director Elise Boutcher. “There are a variety of reasons. It's something happening that causes contention in the community because parents want languages for the students. It's something that we hear from parents. 'Bring our programs back.'”
The organization has 60 program partnerships with schools in the D.C. Metro area. And they're expanding into Loudoun.
Language Stars has two methods for bringing language to an area. The first option involves working directly with the schools and the principal. Language Stars become the language provider for the school, bringing curriculum and teachers on site, and the school pays them for the service.
The second, which is the method entering Loudoun this year, is an after-school enrichment program that works through the Parent Teacher Association. Individual parents can choose to have their child enter into the program, using the school as a base.
LCPS cut its early language learning programs over the course of a few years. Students used to be able to learn Spanish in first through sixth grade. Initially, first to third grade programs were cut. Soon, fourth followed suit. Last year, the language learning program was cut altogether except for seventh through 12th grades.
“Times are tough and tough decision have to be made,” said Suzette Wyhs, supervisor of the LCPS World Languages and Cultures office. “Is [the language program] needed? Absolutely it's needed. But it has to be funded. The only way it would come back is if the community pushed for it.”
Eleven years ago, Loudoun was the only county in Virginia with world languages in all of its schools. Now, they are the only ones without an elementary program in the D.C. Metro area, according to Wyhs.
But that doesn't mean the language programs for elementary schools will never be back.
“It would be nice if it were able to come back because it does benefit students,” said Wyhs. “The data is very clear on that. Students that are exposed to languages at an early age are higher performers than those who start to take a language in seventh grade. Those in high school perform at a higher level when they took our [elementary language] program when it was there.”
That's where Language Stars hopes to help. The organization says it's serious about catching students in what they call the “window of opportunity,” a key stage in a child's development when language-learning comes most easily.
Without elementary language programs, students might be missing out on the window. So, Language Stars have been hard at work trying to form partnerships with different schools in the area.
When they first heard about the county's loss of the program, they approached the Loudoun Parent Teacher Association.
“We got a positive response,” said Boutcher. “We're currently looking into partnerships and booking all the programs, solidifying them. The programs start to role out mid-to late September … Our programs would run at the elementary schools. We offer our classes from a 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. time frame.”
They have yet to reach out directly to LCPS, though they have dropped information off at the offices. Educators at elementary schools in the county have been discussing the possibility of the enrichment program for the coming year, which the schools might start to see in October.
The company has already formed an enrichment-style partnership with Frederick Douglass Elementary in Leesburg to teach French and Spanish in October. They've also partnered with Boyd Schools in Aldie and Reston. Most recently, they've reached an agreement with Algonkian Elementary in Sterling.
For Language Stars, the partnerships mean the possibility that early language learning will come back to the county.
“We're excited for the opportunity to fill a need where languages have been taken away in Loudoun County,” said Boutcher.
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