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updated: 7/18/2011 5:33 AM

D303 planning enhanced foreign language at grade level center

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St. Charles Unit District 303 school board members told district staff last week they won't be happy with a foreign language program that creates parrots instead of students who can actually read, write and speak another language.

The district will implement an enhanced foreign language curriculum at the new Davis-Richmond grade level center this fall. Parents initially only seemed interested in an enhanced Spanish program, but district staff said they also will create an enhanced French language program.

District staff showed a board of education committee a sneak preview of the foreign language curriculum for the first year. Staff said they do expect some growing pains since it's the first time the district has ever had anything like it.

"This is going to be a serious experience for the kids, but we also know that 8-year-olds learn differently than 17-year-olds," said Becky McCabe, area assistant superintendent for K-5 education. "We're interested in making sure they get a good, solid start to loving another language and that it's tied to the content that they're learning. It isn't going to be an after-school program. It's going to be part of their school day, but it's kind of messy here at the beginning because this is our first attempt."

School Board Vice President Kathy Hewell said parents and the board have high expectations for the program. Indeed, the grade level center program as a whole will be under scrutiny to succeed following both a contentious vote and a lawsuit over the creation of grade level centers.

"Everyone wants it to be a success," Hewell said. "I'm interested that students really do learn a language and move on."

Hewell said she hopes by the third year of the program students involved will move toward true fluency in the language of their choice. Tweaking of the curriculum may be necessary before that happens, she said.

"Right now I'm concerned they are going to be parroting rather than really start to learn the language," Hewell said. "There's a lot on culture and geography in the curriculum. I appreciate that, but we're not teaching Spanish culture. The idea is to teach Spanish. The kids should come out of this having a real leg up."

McCabe promised district staff will adjust the curriculum as it proves necessary.

"The kids may go much faster than we all anticipate," McCabe said. "We're basing it first on standards, and then we'll make sure we're meeting the needs of the kids."