JACKSON TWP — Starting this fall, students in the Seneca Valley School District will be introduced to foreign languages in the first grade.
At the school board meeting Monday night, members of the administration gave a presentation on planned curriculum changes which include adding a world languages special that teaches Spanish one day per week for students in grades one through four.
Seneca Valley students currently get their first instruction in foreign languages in seventh grade, when they take four nine-week classes introducing them to French, Spanish, German and Latin. They then pick one of those languages to study exclusively starting in eighth grade.
Starting next year, students will no longer take the four introduction classes, but instead will take the first level of their chosen language in seventh grade, said Sean McCarty, assistant superintendent of primary instruction.
For the past three years, students have had world language classes in fifth and sixth grades. Initially, those classes included instruction in multiple languages, but were changed to focus just on Spanish, McCarty said.
The district also has been making a shift away from teaching younger students grammar and how to conjugate verbs, instead focusing more on teaching them to converse in Spanish and use Spanish vocabulary words in their other subject areas, he said.
“We want them to begin to be able to communicate in a fashion that they want to use the language and go somewhere and be able to have an understanding and grow from there,” he said.
The world language special will be part of a five-day rotation of specials for elementary students. Starting in the fall, the technology and library specials will be combined into one, while there will be added emphasis on research and technology use in other subjects, McCarty said.
Superintendent Tracy Vitale said the district anticipates needing to hire between two and four new elementary world language teachers.
Vitale agreed that focusing on immersing the students in the language and teaching them to converse is ultimately more useful than memorizing vocabulary words to do well on written tests, which is what many high school students around the country do.
“I want to see more students that are beyond just, ‘I have a good memory,’ but ‘I have an interest in the cultures and the countries and I have an interest in learning this other language and more importantly I have an interest in being fluent,’” she said.
Board President Jim Nickel added that one of the district’s long-term goals is to see a student graduate who is able to become fluent in a second language primarily through taking Seneca Valley classes.
Matthew McKinley, assistant superintendent of secondary instruction, introduced a couple changes the administration has planned for the district’s high school students.
A digital photography class that was introduced this year was very popular, with 64 students signing up. Starting next year, the district will add another class. Digital photography will be open to grades nine through 11 and digital photography II will be open to students in grades 10 through 12.
With participation lacking, the district also will restructure its theater electives. Instead of offering four different successive theater classes, the district will offer introduction to theater and advanced theater. It will also offer advanced experience theater. Advanced experience is an option offered for some electives where students continue to independently study a topic they are interested in while also working one-on-one with a teacher. A theater production elective also will still be offered.
The district also will offer an expanded grade range for 13 of its advanced placement courses. This means students in grades nine and 10, who qualify by meeting prerequisites, will be allowed to enroll in more advancement places classes.