For two years, North Allegheny teachers and administrators have been reviewing the world language curriculum to decide whether the same four languages should be offered, should others be added and should foreign language instruction be introduced to elementary schools.
Their report was presented Sept. 19.
Marcie Good, chair of the world language department and a high school French and Spanish teacher, said one of adults' top regrets is not learning a second language.
"We want to make sure that our North Allegheny students do not have that regret," she said. "Learning a foreign language complements a child's education ... and prepares them for a global economy."
School board president Maureen Grosheider said 86 percent of students in grades eight through 13 are enrolled in a foreign language.
This was the third review of the language curriculum since the 1960s, she said.
Tammy Andreyko, assistant superintendent for advancement, said one of the top questions for the review committee was whether the district should continue to offer Latin, French, Spanish and German. The languages are offered full time beginning in eighth grade. Seventh-graders explore two languages during nine-week periods.
Although Latin is not a language used in business and is not conversational, the language has the lowest attrition rate, she said.
"The kids who register for our program are passionate. They stay in the pathway longer and have led the Junior Classical League championships for the last 20 years," she said. "Their AP scores surpass state and national mean scores."
Ms. Andreyko said the top languages in the business world, in addition to English, are, in order: Mandarin Chinese, French, Arabic and Spanish.
The top languages for undergraduate study are, in order: Spanish, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, American sign language and Russian.
A district survey on new languages showed Mandarin Chinese most requested, followed by Italian and sign language.
The lack of certified teachers for Chinese is a problem, Ms. Good said, with only six certified teachers in Pennsylvania as of August.
The A.W. Beattie Career Center offers Mandarin Chinese through distance learning, and that is something that North Allegheny can consider as well, Ms. Good said.
• Starting languages early by using online technology or distance learning to give sixth-graders a taste of all four languages.
• Modifying the current program to offer five years of foreign language. Although some colleges require two years of a foreign language, top tier universities require at least three years. One idea is to offer "college in high school," to entice students to stay with a language in order to earn college credits, said Amy Alexander, a French teacher at Ingomar Middle School.
• Looking at revitalizing after-school language instruction for third through fifth grade. The district offered such programs years ago but, with budget cuts, "we couldn't afford to do it anymore. It was an easy cut," Mrs. Grosheider said. Board member Christopher Jacobs suggested using parent volunteers to teach their native languages in after-school elementary programs.
• Giving new students a placement exam to determine what level of language would be best.
Board member Linda Bishop, who said she studied two languages in high school and two different ones in college, asked if there was a way to better mentor middle-schoolers about what language would be best to take for their career aspirations.
"None of my three children took Spanish, and all could use Spanish in their careers," she said.
Sandy Trozzo, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.