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Voices unite to save elementary foreign language programs

The Loudoun County School Board boardroom was scattered with red clothing Feb. 14, not out of love for Valentine’s Day, but instead in protest of the proposed cuts in the fiscal 2013 budget adopted Feb. 7.

A major target of cuts was the Foreign Language in Elementary School program, which was altered to meet only once a week and not beginning instruction in the program until grade 4. The cost-cutting move could save $2.6 million and cost 35 current full-time employees their jobs.

During the Feb. 14 Loudoun County School Board meeting, more than 30 teachers, students and parents came before the board to help save the FLES program for next year, saying it promotes better student performance growth.

“Loudoun County schools, the ones that actually [are] exposed [to the] FLES have shown progressive improvement in listening and comprehension and language fluency,” Chris Maslyn said. “Why cut a program that so obviously benefits our students? I can only think it’s the money and that’s why all you guys here got your jobs - cut the budget, save money.”

During the last school board meeting Jennifer Bergel (Catoctin) was against the motion that was brought forward by Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) and later passed by a 5-4 vote.

“There is a possibility of 35 people finding out tonight, I’m sure, that their jobs are at risk, based upon a motion in a preliminary portion of the budget,” Bergel said during the Feb. 7 meeting. “Currently, we have our elementary school students enrolled in this program, so what we are saying to our first- and second-graders are ‘you learned this language, but you get a lull until fourth grade from now on.”

According to numerous speakers, the program would only cost $0.58 per student a day and only $100 a year per student .

“What is the goal of education? I think we can all come up with different statements of what we think the goal is for education. But, I think we can also agree that the goal of education is to create an educated person,” Lucille Shoop, a FLES teacher in Loudoun County said. “If you’re not able to speak another language that is necessary in your community you are not going to get a job. If there are two people applying for a job and one speaks the language of the community and the other only speaks the native language of the country, the one that speaks the language of the community is going to get the job. We have a responsibility in Loudoun County Public Schools to prepare our students to not only obtain jobs in our community, but in the world.”

Called a “biased decision” by some speakers, most voiced their sadness over losing the program. More than a dozen speakers said they were disappointed in the board’s decision to cut FLES and many students are going to be negatively impacted.

“This wasn’t a biased decision this wasn’t done without any thought to the benefits of the program. This wasn’t done without any experience to the program. My vote was based on the input from the community,” Debbie Rose (Algonkian) said, noting that class sizes and teacher’s salaries take higher priority.

As Chairman Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) struggled to pronounce the list of public speakers, one speaker pointed out that he teaches his students pronunciation, especially of his name.

Many said that cutting school programs, any program, should be a last option in budget cuts.

“I’m very disappointed that the FLES program in our school system would be reduced so much that it is set up for failure. To completely take it away from first, second and third graders and fourth and fifth graders are only to have FLES once a week doesn’t seem to make sense and it’s not enough,” Wanda Beltarn, a parent and resident said. “Our kids are interested in sports that last more than 30 minutes and for more than once a week. These cuts target minority teachers working for the school district. Even though Loudoun County Schools work towards creating a diverse work force, 35 minority teaching positions are to be cut.”

Board members backed up their decision from the last board meeting saying they needed more information on the impact the program had on students, but it came down to numbers in the budget.

“I’m not supportive of keeping of the FLES program as it is now. I needed more information about the program. Ultimately, it’s not just money it comes down to priorities,” Kevin Kuesters (Broad Run) said. “If you can show certain areas that don’t provide what FLES does we need to be shown that. If you want us to bring FLES back we need to have the reasoning for that.”

Bergel reiterated her concern for what impact the board’s decisions has made.

“I’m very concerned about the message we have sent to the public thus far. I’m embarrassed by some of the decisions. This county ranks as the richest county in the nation, yet we are making decisions that will make us fall behind,” Bergel said. “We need to understand that we have metrics in place to show the gains, those have been in place for a very long time. I’m glad the LCPS employees have voiced their concerns again and again.”

Bill Fox (Leesburg) said that he will be working toward opening immersion programs in certain schools for elementary-aged students.


The problem is that in America many people want immediate results for their money. Learning a foreign language takes years and many hours of practice. What I can see in many comments expressed here is ‘ignorance’, ‘racism’ and more ‘ignorance’ and more ‘racism.’ I bet many of these people speak English and… what else? Oh I know… English! GO TO SCHOOL! GET A DECENT EDUCATION! SPEAK OTHER LANGUAGES AND THEN…AND ONLY THEN…GIVE YOUR OPINION ON LEARNING A FOREIGN LANGUAGE! RACISM COMES FROM IGNORANCE. GET EDUCATED!!!!! EUROPEANS, ASIANS, MIDDLE EASTERNERS AND LATINOS SPEAK MORE THAN ONE LANGUAGE! FOLLOW THE REST OF THE WORLD’S EXAMPLE! THE NEW WORLD ORDER IS HAPPENING! GET READY FOR IT!

Too much money is spent on educationin Loudoun county. It comes to 15k a student with debt payment factored in. Just because we live in a rich county does not mean we should spend one cent more that is nessary for education. It’s not your money it’s mine and I want to spend my money on my family instead of a overpriced school system. What kind of car does Hatrick drive that he needs a $11,300.00 car alloance. No more benefits to part timers this is a school system. If your not working full time go get welfare. I know that it should be 32 a week worked to get health and dental just like California

I saw (again) that “Loudoun is the #1 richest county in the US.” With that said, how can you still have dirt/gravel roads, and find a way to cut teachers? Instead of cutting the FLES teachers, perhaps they can be trained in teaching classes on respect to your students who could use a few lessons, because they aren’t getting it from home. Maybe there can be night classes for some of the parents, exceptions noted, especially ones who continue to treat teachers like dirt.

❝Those who know nothing of foreign languages know nothing of their own.❞
‒Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Are you people afraid your child might learn something subversive.

Wat idioten…ongelofelijk!

Unfortunately, “Education seems to be in America the only commodity of which the customer tries to get as little he can for his money.”
Max Leon Forman

Foreign language immersion is the BEST way to teach it. The FLES program did nothing more than introduce a few vocabulary words…at best. When it is reasonable to do so..(meaning there is money in the budget) a full immersion program could be started for those students and parents who want such a class..maybe using some of those smaller schools that they keep threatening to close. Similar to the FFX program.  They could even have a fee associated with the program…just a thought. The current program is just not effective. I have sat in on those classes..same lessons over and over..repeated at all grade levels. Or worse, movie watching. As a parent of a child who struggled in reading English, this was time wasted…he could have been using that time to practice reading in his native language. This same child is now in middle school and NOT studying Spanish…he chose something else because he hated Spanish class because of FLES.

Students who study a foreign language in a well-articulated program (elementary->high school)achieve higher levels of proficiency.  I am sadden by the choice to cut FLES as some exposure is better than none.  There is a lot of research on the benefit of studying a foreign language in elementary school as mentioned in a previous post.  That is how FCPS saved their program when it was on the chopping block.  I agree that the program has issues and has not been well-articulated.  However, I have seen improvement.  I am a teacher in FCPS but live in Loudoun and it is obvious to me that my kids are getting short-changed in their foreign language education.  In FCPS, there are many foreign elementary programs-immersion, FLES and an afterschool program as well.  They offer many languages-Spanish, French, German, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Italian (but not all in immersion).  Perhaps LCPS should work closer with FCPS to implement better and more effective programs or research other parts of the country that do it successfully. I also recall several years ago that Loudoun County was considering Chinese but there was an outcry that it wasn’t useful and a waste of money! I would think the richest county would also be intelligent but obviously not.

“Cut this and cut more.” “Go buy Rosetta Stone”

Yeah—cut PE too! Parents are already paying for that outside of school. Can we say Karate, Football, Dance, Swimming, Soccer, etc., etc? Why do we need to teach them bowling?

Go buy Rosetta Stone and teach them yourself MA.

BRAIN DEVELOPMENT: the data on the benefits elementary foreign language instruction;

The primary benefit of second language study is the unique cognitive development it provides for elementary students in core subject areas.  The brain’s cognitive abilities in reading and math are positively impacted (improved) in students with second language instruction. The acquisition of fluency in a second language at the elementary level is NOT the objective of a FLES program.  And the choice of WHICH LANGUAGE is studied does not have any significance in the brain benefits that students acquired.
    If our new School Board members did their homework before making cuts, they might find a large set of studies proving this.  If you need more proof, look at this study:
Stewart, J. H. (2005). Foreign language study in elementary schools: Benefits and implications for achievement in reading and math. Early Childhood Education Journal, 33(1), 11-16. from PsycINFO database.
  Educators and policy makers in many countries have been expressing concern about how to improve students’ achievement in reading and math. This article explores and proposes a solution: introduce or increase foreign language study in the elementary schools. Research has shown that foreign language study in the early elementary years improves cognitive abilities, positively influences achievement in other disciplines, and results in higher achievement test scores in reading and math. Successful foreign language programs for elementary schools include immersion, FLES, and FLEX programs. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2006 APA, all rights reserved) (journal abstract).

Sadly, the evisceration of the FLES Program may be the first of many instances of a School Board more interested in saving money than in maintaining an excellent instructional system in Loudoun.  Parents and teachers must not allow the fine school system that we have worked so hard to develop in Loudoun suffer a death of a thousand cuts.  You get what you pay for.  Penny wise, pound foolish.

FLES is a waste of taxpayer money and our childrens time.  Like others have posted on here, my child too learned nothing in their FLES classes.  In fact, one of her teachers hardly spoke English which limited her instruction efforts.  Both of my children purposely chose another language to learn because of their FLES Spanish instruction.  This additional time could be used for academic instruction which would be beneficial.  Yes, it would be grand if we could be like other countries and ‘actually’ teach our children a second language in their elementary years, but our schools do not have the time nor funds to do so.  So why don’t we utilize time in areas where teachers need more instructional time.

In Europe kids are exposed to a mandatory second language from elementary school to high school. They have 3 hours a week and most students go to language schools twice a week after school to learn more! That is why it works there!

@Less FLES,
I’m American!! and that was just a typo!!!
I’m here to support the FLES program and the amazing FLES teacher my kids have!!!

@Amazing FLES Teachers,
I think you meant to say ‘establish’ not ‘stablish’? Probably an easy mistake to make if you’re not a native English speaker….proving the point that ‘Stunned’ just made!  Sorry if you will lose your job - but cutting the least successful programs from the LCPS Budget is the only way to free up funds for use elsewhere…times are hard!

@ Stunned,
When the FLES program started at LCPS they chose Spanish as the language to teach because Spanish is the second most spoken language in this county and in the world!! Moreover, if people could stop trying to cut the program maybe LCPS would be able to teach other languages. Starting a Foreign Language program is not easy and it takes time to stablish it!!!! how do you want LCPS to offer another language if they try to cut the one they are trying to stablish every year!!! over and over!!!

@Amazing FLES teachers

I never said anything to the contrary. In fact in principal I am inclined to agree that if we have the money we should have a true FLES program. I am sure you are right that most are wondeful people, in fact you backed up my statement by confirming they are mostly Spanish speaking.

Their plight here is self-serving. I just wish they wouldn’t cry foul in hopes to save the poor children’s education when they are really just trying to save their jobs. I get trying to save your job, I would try to save mine as well. The difference is I would be honest about it.

Again FLES is FOREIGN Language in Elementary Schools. It is not SLES..Spanish Language in Elementary Schools. If they had gotten up and asked to not only keep FLES but expand it to include French and Italian or German then I could buy into their story.

Right now they are too transparent and they are halfway pulling out the race card hoping people will back down. It is the wrong tactic.

To Stunned,
Dear Sir or Madam,
Most of the teachers who teach FLES in Loudoun County are outstanding visiting international professionals. They are from Spanish speaking countries and they are here for three years to share their culture and language with the kids at LCPS, and after the three years they go back to their countries. These LCPS kids are priviliged that because they are learning Spanish from a native speaker and they are learning from other cultures. Hopefully, these kids will be more open minded than a lot of the people who are complaining here. Moreover, all the Visiting teachers in FLES and SAMS have already been fired so they can relocate the “American” teachers. This is goigng to be a huge loss for LCPS.

The truth is that this isn’t an assault on the Spanish language or the Latin culture. In fact the FLES program stands for Foreign Language which includes all languages outside of English. It was a travesty to only offer Spanish in the first place, some might even view that as racist if not at the very least biased and pandering.

Why aren’t the proponents of FLES asking to be able to teach other Languages besides Spanish? I will tell you why, it’s because primarily those supporters only speak Spanish and English. If FLES is open to more than just Spanish, the also potentially lose their jobs.

This outcry isn’t about the poor children, it is about the FLES employees who are predominantly Spanish speaking, keeping their jobs.

FLES is ineffective.  After years of it at Banneker ES, my kids know very little.  They have also had at least four different FLES teachers. Perhaps studdents could spend the time on a Rosetta-Stone style program in computer lab.  They would probably learn more.

I’m multi-lingual myself, so I value the education of foreign languages…but why Spanish? 

I’ve been to Europe and was really exposed to European culture as a youth, and English is usually the top second language taken, followed by either French or German, because these are the languages that get you places economically.

If we followed that model, it would be Chinese or Japanese, or German for us (maybe French or Arabic since this is DC metro).  Where we stand with illegal immigration and assimilation, we send the wrong message with Spanish, IMO.

You should not make general comments based on one person’s experience. If your kid could not count to 100 then it is his fault, because I know for sure that they leave 5th grade knowing how to count to 100,000 in Spanish.
Yes, of course European programs works. Students have 3 hours of English a week!!! and no one complains!! here, we could never apply that because people would complain that they would not have time for other subjects.
The truth is that behind all these complains and people asking to cut the program is the word RACISM!!!!! do you know that Spanish is a EUROPEAN language too?! people associates the word Spanish with all the immigrants and that is the problem. quit being racist!!!

Agree that FLES was a waste of time for my now 9th grader.  After having FLES for every year I really thought she’d be a Spanish whiz and figured it would be a natural progression to take Spanish I in 7th grade.  Boy was I wrong.  I heard from parent after parent how difficult the Spanish I class had been for their students even though they too had FLES all thru elementary school.  How in the heck was that possible?  I was shocked that so many kids were struggling in Spanish I while the kids taking French I, Latin I and German I were doing the same or better—- and they didn’t have any exposure to those languages in elementary school.  FLES is a failure and should be pulled until it can be revamped.  No way should Spanish I be a difficult class for kids having had FLES for 6 years…it makes no sense (logical or fiscal).  We should be having boatloads of AP Spanish scholars from having funded FLES and SAMS for so many years.

Unless you have a continuous immersion program, these programs are not effective.  With our kids bearly having a good understanding of English and our national deficiency in Math, you have to ask in a tight budget, would that money be better spent.  If you want our kids to be more worldly, concentrate more on immersion programs in High School and college and more exchange programs that send our kids to study in foreign countries.

Early education should include foreign language immersion instruction.  NO doubt.  And, we do look foolish for removing elementary language from our schools.

However… LCPS has failed to execute.  As with other programs, FLES has been just another feather in Hatrick’s cap (and I blame previous Boards, too, for poor implementation and lack of accountability).  Frankly, I am a little tired of all the *great* ideas and programs being brought into the Loudoun schools without proper planning, implementation and success metrics.

What an embarrassment! When is this nonsense going to stop?! Comments by board members makes it more evident that this decision was biased and caprichious. Rather than listen to educational research and professional educators, these individuals chose to listen to the personal opinions of constituents with personal biases against the teaching of SPANISH. It’s time we set aside our personal opinions and make decisions based on facts that will prepare the children of loudoun county to participate in a global economy.

The United States is the second largest Spanish speaking country in the world. In 20 years over half the population will speak english and Spanish in this country. Don’t you think it would be ideal for our children to have some language ability in Spanish in order to participate in that future society?

The only kind of foreign language programs that achieve results are immersion programs, which are offered in Fairfax and in many Maryland districts.  Its criminal that our kids aren’t offered the same opportunities.

I’ve already written to the School Board regarding the budget and on this issue specifically, but I don’t think the FLES program, as currently implemented, is very useful. For the record, I speak French and German as well as English and I have two kids in elementary school. I am not against elementary foreign language education (and applaud the idea), but how LCPS does it is not effective. As a volunteer in the classroom and a substitute teacher, I’ve seen the program in action as well. What I told the board is that if they want kids to learn a foreign language at that age, it’s more effective if it’s integrated into the actual school day, every day (not just a “special” once or twice a week), which many here have already stated.

The way the economy is going, we will all need to learn a second language because we may need to go OVERSEAS to seek work in a few years. Just look at Latin America. Friends of mine work in Europe because they couldn’t find work in their home country. The choice was to starve or go overseas to work. These are people with professional degrees who learned more than one language. It will come to that here. So yes, cut back on PE—what will PE give us—oh, yeah, the ability to work in factories and construction!? What a joke! Especially when so many kids do sports outside of school! You see any Americans working in factories and construction?? I don’t. I see immigrants doing that kind of work. Did they have PE in their home countries? No—they had NO education. Yes, we absolutely need foreign language instruction. We are going back to the dark ages by this decision! So, yes the FLES program is flawed—but eliminate it?? What a joke! I say we need to offer a plethora of languages, such as Mandarin Chinese, Urdu, and Spanish. We have to get our collective heads out of the sand and really THINK about the future of our country. The countries that are doing well are the ones that are thinking outside the box—that are not closing their borders but opening them—that are training their people to know more than one language so that they can export their goods and services overseas. I too am embarrassed by the antics of the school board on this particular matter—sheesh! We are the richest county in America yet we are offering our kids a third world education!

I think exposure to foreign language is important and at minimum, helps one understand English grammar. But no one learns enough foreign language from high school classes, let alone elementary classes, to be proficient. Cut grade school languages but keep foreign exchange language programs for anyone who truly wishes to learn another language.

Many of the comments here seem to agree with one thing. The FLES program is not doing what it could as it stands now. There have been additions to the program in recent years. Grades 3-5 are graded now. There were tests and projects in FLES grades 3-5 last year to pilot the grading system. Children are taking it seriously. If you look at those European models that product English speakers, how many minutes per week do you think they are dedicating to learning English? Probably more than 30 or even 60, which is what we currently offer. Logically, that shows that if you want a meaningful experience, you have to augment the program, not tear it into pieces, which is what the School Board has done. Furthermore, do you think the European community are putting all the negative feelings about Americans in front of their desire for their children to learn an important language like English? We sure seem to have enough problems with Spanish speakers that it is causing us to destroy an educational opportunity for our children. I can say with 100% certainty that if this program were teaching French, we would not be having these discussions every year. This is really showing our true colors in Virginia, unfortunately. My advice to any parents who are out there complaining about the program and asking their board members to cut it is to go visit a FLES classroom this week. Go educate yourself on the matter rather than allowing yourself to be grouped in with the people who are obtuse and biased.

Vern nailed it.  My kids had FLES all the way through an LCPS elementary school and could not count to 100 in Spanish by the time they started Spanish class in 7th grade.  There is no grade for FLES, and the kids just don’t take it seriously.  If we as a community want our kids to learn another language, we need to do it correctly, while they’re young, with a program that works.  FLES is not working.

10 million from hs-8 property would look kinda nice now would it not?

Although I think it would be a shame to cut the foreign language program in the elementary schools, I have to say that the program itself is a sham. Like most foreign language instruction in the US, this program is woefully inadequate. Kids learn very little there. What we need in this country is a real foreign language program like the ones in Europe. I lived in Germany for three years where virtually everyone speaks English. And why is that? English is required beginning in Elementary school and it’s taught well. By the time kids reads middle or high school, they are fluent in English. On the other hand, kids come out of our foreign language programs barely able to say their own names. It’s such a shame that Americans are so ignorant when it comes to foreign languages. They have no idea how much knowing a foreign language can broaden their horizons.

You know.  if there is going to be a language program in elementary school, there should be more of a variety of language. All there is , is Spanish. What if we don’t want our kids to learn spanish??  We have had no choice.

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