Students in Oak Grove School Elementary 68 next year will get more concentrated doses of foreign language instruction.
Starting in kindergarten, younger students in the district for the first time will be introduced to a foreign language, while older students will be given the choice of taking Spanish or Mandarin. French will be phased out.
"Mandarin is becoming more and more valued by the professional workforce. Companies are doing more and more trade with China," said Superintendent Janice Matthews.
She said Libertyville High School, a feeder school for Green Oaks-based District 68, began offering Mandarin this year.
"It's really a growing language being taught in this country," she said.
The changes, approved by the school board this week, come after months of review by a foreign language task force comprised of parents and staffers. The new program will mean younger students will get more foreign language instruction at an earlier age.
"Now, we're going to start at kindergarten. That's a huge difference," Matthews said.
"They can have a lot of years learning the same language."
Oak Grove students have not been exposed to foreign languages until the fourth grade. Fourth- through sixth-graders received a seven-week rotation each year, but because of the timing, a student could go more than a year without any foreign language at all, Matthews said.
"They will have more language at fourth and fifth (grade) than they do now," she said. "Previously, I would call it exposure -- we didn't expect them to retain a language." Foreign language classes will be structured to enable students to better understand and speak the language.
Under the new plan, kindergartners and first-graders will get 15 minutes of instruction two or three times a week.
"We think it's important children begin to hear the sounds of language beginning in kindergarten," Matthews said.
Second- and third-graders will get at least the same amount. Fourth- and fifth-graders will receive 40 minutes twice a week or 2,800 minutes a year -- an increase of 1,500 minutes.
Sixth- through eighth-graders will be instructed in Spanish or Mandarin for one period each day. Students completing K-8 Spanish would be prepared to enter Spanish III at the high school level and those completing three years of Mandarin could enter Mandarin II at that level, according to the district.
Matthews said a task force survey showed Spanish as the top foreign language choice, with the results split between French or Mandarin as a second choice. The approved program was a modified version of the task force recommendation.
Oak Grove is a single-school district with about 875 students.