School officials responding to the increased need for 21st century workers who speak two languages have begun expanding elementary school language programs. Questions of feasibility continue to be raised in meeting five year goals.
In Virginia, Fairfax County school officials have a blueprint to bring fireign language programs to all elementary schools within 5 years. Currently, 70 percent of all elementary students in Fairfax County do not receive any foreign language instruction. The projected annual cost to expand foreign language programs would be $7.7 million a year.
The proposal includes expanding language immersion programs from 16 to 21 schools through the low-cost two-way immersion structure.
Two-way immersion uses diverse school populations to create classes with 50 percent English speakers and 50 percent native speakers of the instructional language. In Fairfax County, seven schools have Spanish two-way immersion programs and one school has a Korean program.
While the move to Language Through Content would reduce costs at current FLES schools, adding the language program at 93 additional schools would bring the overall cost to $7.5 million annually once fully implemented.
“My only frustration is that this will take five years,” said School Board member Kathy Smith (Sully). “I’d like to do this tomorrow.”
While most School Board members echoed Smith’s support, they also offered questions over whether the school system could find room in a tight budget for the changes, especially with other projects such as later high school start times in the works.
Others questioned the move to the completely new curriculum required by Language Through Content, noting that it would require a significant investment without proof of past success.