Arlington Heights Elementary District 25 is sticking with its plan to offer world languages to elementary students outside of regular hours and for an additional fee, but a huge jump in interest in the classes has officials wondering if learning a new language should be a part of the regular curriculum again in the future.
District 25 eliminated its Mandarin Chinese program last year after grant funding for the program disappeared and the school board chose not to fund world language education at the elementary level.
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Instead, the district struck an agreement with Language Stars, an outside company with 18 locations around the country, to provide 45-minute classes to students who pay an additional $175 fee. The classes are during lunch, before or after school.
During the 2013-2014 school year, 732 students in kindergarten through fifth grade participated in Language Stars classes, said Brittany Kline, at school director for the program. Registration is underway for the next year of classes, which will begin in October. A preliminary study showed that about 2,800 students and their families had interest in the program, she said.
Kline attributed the jump to increased awareness about the program, its use of native speaking teachers and its engaging classroom techniques.
The growing interest may cause the district to look at ways to bring world language education to all elementary students in the future, but finding money for the program and time during the school day make it difficult, officials said.
"It is a challenge of how can we provide (world languages) without taking away from the other time that we need for core instruction," said new Superintendent Lori Bein.
Her predecessor, Sarah Jerome, was a strong proponent of world languages and disagreed with the school board's decision not to continue funding the program. Bein said the door to world languages may not be permanently closed.
"We will take a look at it after two or three years and see if this is an interest that we need to expand on," Bein said.
Exposing students to languages and cultures is helpful on many levels, experts said.
"We live in a global society now," Bein said. "Understanding cultures and how different people from different parts of the world interact is extremely important."
Early language learning can also lead to improved cognitive skills, higher standardized test scores and better social skills, Kline added.
"It would be wonderful to have it integrated into the school day," said Doris Downing, who enrolled her two children in Spanish classes at District 25 through Language Stars. "But, having it at lunch, before or after school works too. The younger you get to them, the higher the chance they have of being fluent in a language."