Unfounded rumor causes concerns in school district

UNION – Over the last few weeks rumors spread like wildfire the school district would be eliminating French and German from the entire curriculum in the fall, but it is just that – a rumor – according to school officials.

Assistant Superintendent Noreen Lishak made it clear the only change coming up to the world language program will be taking place at the 6th grade level. There will be no change at the high school level.

“It’s unfortunate that information has been distributed which asserts the township of Union School Board is planning on cutting both French and German classes from the school system. That is simply not true,” said Lishak. “The school district wants to assure the students and parents that the township of Union School District will continue to provide quality instruction in all academic areas.”

What actually is happening, she explained, is that sixth grade students will now have a cycle of Spanish as their only language, instead of cycles of three languages. They will also, according to Lishak, have a cycle in which they are taught keyboarding.
This is a result of new state tests that will now all be on computers and the school district has to ensure all students really know keyboarding.

Lishak said elementary school students have already been introduced to Spanish and will have a new program in the fall that will have an online component, which is a continuation to their previous introduction to this language.

In eighth grade, students choose a language to study for the entire year but they will still be able to choose from Spanish, German or French. The seventh-grade language cycle will remain the same, with students having a cycle of Spanish, French and German.

“Nothing is going to change at the high school level,” Lishak stressed, adding that students can still take Spanish, German or French. The assistant superintendent said there is a possibility a survey may be sent home and an additional language added, but as of yet nothing is written in stone, nor has there been discussion on this issue.

The reasoning behind these changes is that eighth graders have only been able to choose one full year elective for the past few years once block scheduling was put in place.

For example, if a student wanted to take band or chorus, they cannot take a language while in that grade.

Kawameeh School French teacher Laura Detjen, whose letter regarding this issue was posted on the Union, N.J. Residents Forum on Facebook explained that three years ago the middle school schedules were changed in order to give every student 80-minute blocks of English and math. This reduced their elective choices.

Previously, she said, a student could take a music, art or technology elective at the same time they took a world language. Now students can only choose one or the other. This, Detjen said, limits a student’s ability to progress to upper levels of a language such as Advanced Placement.

For instance, students who play an instrument cannot begin language studies until 9th grade.
The language teacher said her students are very interested in taking French, but the most proficient of them would take both band or chorus and French if the middle school schedule allowed it. Detjen felt that interest in languages had not gone down but rather enrollment numbers had been manipulated.

Detjen said these limitations to the language program at the sixth grade level make Union a less desirable school district for high achieving students because “they are not competitive with students from other high schools who have these opportunities.”

“I feel we are regressing into a remedial district, driven solely by test scores. There are already many eighth-graders who are leaving the district to attend high schools with more opportunity and I fear that with these changes, more students will leave the district even earlier,” said the language teacher, adding that she hoped something would be done to reverse this process.

The entire issue of the school district doing away with French and German surfaced late last month and one student, a senior at the high school, took it upon herself to do something about it.

With little information available and none forthcoming, this student decided to post an online petition in order to rally support behind any change to the language program.
“What the school board does not understand is that languages give us more than just another way to communicate,” she said in her petition, pointing out they “help us appreciate foreign cultures, accept people who are different from us and learn more about ourselves and our own history.”

Miles also wrote a letter to the board of education, noting that she did not want future generations to miss out on taking these three languages because the inclusion of three foreign languages in the school district “is what makes it special.”