Students at two elementary schools in a Maryland district take a semester of Spanish and a semester of Chinese each year as part of a pilot program, now in its second year, that seeks to infuse foreign-language instruction in a curriculum based on science, technology, engineering and math. The language courses primarily are focused on science, but they also incorporate culture, health, language arts and social studies.
The pilot was introduced after school officials sought to incorporate foreign languages in early grades using a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) curriculum. Classes are centered around a science curriculum, focusing on such topics as weather. It also incorporates lessons in culture, health, language arts and social studies.
“We do games like Simon Says and do bingo games,” Chang said. “We try to create gestures for everything.”
Chang has filled the walls in her room with images and photos, most captioned with words in Chinese. Occasionally, she will walk the room as students are speaking among themselves to make sure as little English as possible is being used. During a recent second-grade class, students spoke with relative ease, with some occasionally pausing to come up with the right word.
“I’m always learning new stuff. Plus we’re starting to make sentences,” Waverly second-grader Kevin Baker said. “My favorite words are [those for] introducing yourself, saying hello, asking what other people are doing, and colors, numbers and weather.”
Joelle Becker said she learned some Chinese words while watching the Nick Jr. television series “Ni Hao, Kai-Lan,” whose main character, Kai-Lan, is Chinese. “It teaches you how to speak Chinese, and Kai-Lan is sort of like your teacher,” Joelle said. “And Ms. Chang is our teacher for school. Class teaches us Chinese in fun ways. I hope more children can do it at different schools because it’s really fun to learn a new language.”
Students are not tested and no grades are given, school officials said.
“The real purpose at the elementary level at the present time is for them to be exposed and to have the opportunity to acquire the language and to learn about different cultures,” Waverly Principal Kathy Jacobs said.
Howard Superintendent Renee Foose said the pilot has generated “positive feedback” from the community, and “many of our other school communities are requesting world languages in their schools as well.”
Departing Howard school board member Allen Dyer, who helped lead the way in getting the program launched, said, “I’d like to see it go … to every elementary school.”
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