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updated: 2/25/2013 5:15 PM

District 25 cuts popular world language program

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Arlington Heights Elementary District 25 will no longer offer Mandarin Chinese to fourth and fifth grade students, starting next year.

Although the move will save the district nearly $200,000 annually, it is contrary to a parent survey showing that more and more families want second language instruction in lower grade levels.

Last week, six of the seven school board members voted to direct Superintendent Sarah Jerome to eliminate the program when putting together the 2013-2014 budget, a $197,760 cut, she said.

"I'm a very strong proponent of elementary world language programs," Jerome said. "We know the earlier second language instruction starts, the better."

Diana Chrissis was the only board member who voted in favor of the program, saying she supports language education at the elementary level and wanted to have further discussion on the topic.

Since 2009, the Mandarin Chinese program has been taught to all fourth and fifth grade students through 30-minute sessions twice a week. About 2,400 students have participated, according to board documents.

The program originally was funded through a national FLAP (Foreign Language Assistance Program) grant, but that funding has since been eliminated, Jerome said. While the board chose to fund the program this year, it will be eliminated for the 2013-2014 school year.

The cost of the program makes up about 0.28 percent of the district's total expenditures, according to board documents.

Because of the change, four teaching positions will be eliminated, said Dale Truding, assistant superintendent for student learning. The district has a contract with Michigan State University, which helped run the Mandarin Chinese program and find the teachers, Truding added.

"With budgets being as tight as they are we have to re-evaluate every expense each year and rejustify if this is something we want to continue moving forward with," said David Page, school board president. "With the grant no longer funding it, people were much less enthusiastic about the program."

Page said board members also were concerned about spending an hour of classroom time on the program each week rather than other subjects.

The middle school world language program, which offers Mandarin, Spanish, French, German and Italian to students in 6th, 7th and 8th grades, will continue unchanged as of right now, Jerome said.

Jerome said she was disappointed in the decision, especially because of the results of a parent survey presented at Thursday's board meeting. According to the survey, which more than 1,000 parents answered, 86 percent said they want their children to have second language instruction in elementary school. Fifty percent of parents said they would like to see second language instruction begin in kindergarten or first grade, according to the survey results.

Jerome said she is hoping to explore whether the district could offer a language program before or after school on a fee basis for interested elementary families.

"I'm so sad about (the decision)," she said. "I so strongly believe that early language learning is the best practice and is certainly important for 21st century students. We live in a world of great diversity."

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