HARWICH – In spite of a parent survey in which a majority of families said they were in favor of keeping the Spanish language program at Harwich and Chatham Elementary Schools, the Monomoy Regional School Committee voted last Thursday night in favor of doing away with the language instruction and bringing in a science/STEM initiative that committee members hope will better prepare students for the state MCAS tests and their futures.
Superintendent Scott Carpenter said that the survey results revealed that 54 percent of families responding favored keeping Spanish, with 46 percent wanting the science/STEM program. The school committee in turn voted 4-1, with one abstention, in favor of making the change.
“It's not just that students will be getting 45 minutes of science,” Carpenter said. “The concept is to provide science/STEM instruction and weave it in an interdisciplinary way into the rest of the curriculum so that we're seeing the amount of STEM that's happening really blossom at both elementary schools.”
Under the new curriculum, students will now have foreign language classes for the first time beginning at the middle school level with grade 5. Although the decision regarding the curriculum change was made Feb. 28, the foreign language teachers at both Chatham and Harwich Elementary Schools were notified at the end of January that their jobs were ending to allow them February vacation to seek other employment, according to Carpenter.
Voting in favor of the change were committee chairman Donna Richardson, vice chairman Jackie Zibrat-Long, and members Joe Auciello, Terry Russell, Nancy Scott, and Jo-anne Sheehan, while Sharon Stout voted against the change and Tina Games abstained while stating that the practice of cutting arts and culture classes must end.
“As someone who has advocated for arts and cultural programs and education for the past two decades...it has been my experience that when curricula are being adjusted or budgets are being cut, it's always arts and culture that are on the chopping block,” Games said.
Games said the problem isn't just in the Monomoy district, but is prevalent across the country. She added that the purpose of having language classes at the elementary level is about exposure.
“At the elementary level it's less about immersion and more about exposure, giving our elementary students opportunities to explore arts and culture,” she said. “Exposing them to these kinds of offerings are beneficial in many ways. I would like to know how we can incorporate exposure to world languages in our elementary schools, rather than eliminating it completely.”
While Auciello said that coming from a multi-lingual family impressed upon him the importance of learning a language, a glimpse into the academic levels of other countries highlighted the need for more STEM based programs locally, though he was disappointed there wasn't a way to have both Spanish and science/STEM.
“We have a choice between two good things and we have to determine or distinguish between in the future, what can be made, what will be good or better, what can we make better, and which of the things we can make better will be more valuable,” he said.
“I think the worst thing we can do is to take time from other courses so that several would be reduced and be less effective. There isn't a third option. There isn't creativity. These really are the options that we have, as difficult as it is. Our best guess now is to think of what our students will need more of in the future. The other is, frankly, to bring our district more in line with state mandates and MCAS test our students will be taking later in their careers. We need to keep pace with what our students are going to be confronted with,” he said.
Stout, however, was not convinced that eliminating Spanish and added science/STEM was the answer.
“I'm a big supporter of science,” Stout said. “However, nothing has been brought up about any of the arts or foreign language to be problematic before. They've all been valued. I do think we do have some problem of needing to enhance our science. I'm not willing to do it on the back of other things that are of equal value, and so I support what we've been getting from our survey, [which is] to keep it as it is until we've found a better solution.”
Carpenter said that doing away with Spanish at the elementary level doesn't mean the schools won't have some focus on multicultural learning.
“We can't lose sight in this school district of how important multicultural awareness is,” he said, adding that there is a plan in place to have Marc Smith, the district's director of curriculum, instruction, and assessment, do a presentation on the multicultural initiatives taking place at the elementary schools.
“Just because we're shifting to provide more of a STEM interdisciplinary approach at the elementary school is not that we're shifting away from any multicultural awareness at the elementary level,” Carpenter said.