Watertown Students Could Start to Learning Spanish in Kindergarten

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Watertown School officials are working toward starting a program that would start teaching all students Spanish beginning in kindergarten and eventually expanding the program through middle school and high school.

On Monday, the School Committee heard a report from a group of 10 administrators and teachers about starting a FLES (Foreign Language in the Elementary Schools) program.

Initially, the district would hire three teachers and all kindergarten students and those in classes of mixed Pre-K and K would get 30 minutes of Spanish instruction each day at school, said Adam Silverberg, world language curriculum coordinator for the Watertown Public Schools.

“The benefit of starting at kindergarten is the young they start the better they are at acquiring language,” Silverberg said.

It also lines up well with the curriculum, he said, because kindergarten is when students are learning numbers and letters and beginning to learn to read.

Students that go through the entire program, K-12, would end up with advanced language skills, Silverberg said.

“They would be able to have an advanced conversation on a wide variety of topics,” Silverberg said.

Spanish was chosen because it is the second most spoken primary language in Watertown and across the United States, Silverberg said. The plan calls for the program to spread by one grade each year until it is districtwide in grades K-12.

Adding the first three teachers would mean a increase of 0.45 percent, said Superintendent Jean Fitzgerald. More teachers would have to be added as the program grows.

If the district cannot afford, or does not want to offer Spanish instruction five days a week, it could drop down to 3 days a week for 30 minutes, Silverberg said, and still be effective.

Students would benefit from the program, Silverberg said, aside from learning a language.

“Research shows student achievement goes up when they learn a foreign language,” Silverberg said. “Also, self-esteem, creativity and positive thoughts on diversity increase.”

School Committee members seemed receptive to the idea, but they want to make sure the district follows through to make a full-fledged program.

“We really have to have to be committed to all 13 years of a child’s education and a much larger budget item,” said School Committee member Eileen Hsu-Balzer.

Town Council President and School Committee member Mark Sideris said he does not want to give students and parents something and then take it away.

The program will be integrated into the daily teaching, said Fitzgerald, and will not be a “special,” like music and art where students are pulled out of their classes.

Silverberg said that the Spanish teachers will work with the kindergarten teachers to design the curriculum for the first year, and he hopes to have professional development that integrates Spanish into the other parts of the teaching day.  In addition, classroom teachers will have the chance to learn Spanish.

Other districts have started similar programs, so Watertown can learn from their mistakes, Fitzgerald said. Adding the FLES program would help meet the district’s goal of global competency, and Fitzgerald believes it is an important program to add.

“If we don’t do it I think we are making a serious mistake, and would be leaving our students behind,” Fitzgerald said.

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