Second-year Spanish and French could be coming to junior high

by: VERN UYETAKE - Lake Oswego Junior High teacher Ian Reeves discusses a Spanish lesson with eighth-grader Joe Lantow. Students at Lakeridge and Lake Oswego junior high schools soon could be able to take Spanish in seventh grade, possibly completing two years of a language before entering high school.

The high school world language program could change, too, as a result. Students currently can take Spanish I or French I in eighth grade. The Lake Oswego School Board charged a committee of teachers with looking into revising language curriculum.

“We believe strongly that ... getting our students interacting with a language at a younger age is going to pay very positive academic, cultural and social dividends, and it is with that optimistic vision in mind that we came together as a group and hammered out the two proposals,” said Ian Reeves, a Spanish teacher at Lake Oswego Junior High.

The committee’s two proposals were presented to the school board last month. Lake Oswego School District Superintendent Bill Korach said he expects administrators’ proposal, taking into consideration teachers’ recommendations, will come before the board Jan. 13. If the board approves the changes, school officials could initiate them as soon as next school year, depending on several factors, including the district’s financial outlook.

“I’d like to know what the current money situation is — we just have so much we don’t know how to spend it,” board member John Wendland quipped.

Board meeting attendees laughed — the district has been faced with a budget shortfall for years. The new language classes would require more books and, possibly, more teachers or teacher hours or the elimination of other classes. Korach, who spearheaded a long-term money-saving strategy for the district, said he thinks adding language to the seventh grade could be doable, depending on the cost and available resources.

“It will somewhat be hooked into what decision you make as to what reductions you make for next year if that’s where we head,” he told the VERN UYETAKE - Lake Oswego Junior High eighth-graders Sarah Rourke and Humberto Velazquez take a quiz in Ian Reeves Spanish class.

Korach said the goal is to move toward a more in-depth language study option for seventh-graders. Seventh-graders currently can take a world languages exploration class offering French or Spanish basics, such as colors, greetings and numbers from one to 10.

Before there’s any change, Wendland said he wants more information on how students perform in high school after studying a language in middle school.

Proposal A would give students the option of completing two years of French or Spanish in junior high with a first-year class offered to seventh- and eighth-graders and a second-year class offered to eighth-graders. If approved, the district would be the only one in the area with such a language learning model. The committee recommended the high school world language diploma requirement increase from two years to three years if this model is implemented.

If such a change was not made simultaneously, there could be a decrease in language enrollment in high school, the proposal document says. There is no sixth year for languages available, so there could be a gap year. A sixth-year AP course could be phased in later to address that.

Proposal A is the committee majority’s preference. Lakeridge High School world languages and Spanish teacher Julie Pacheco-Toye said she supports Proposal B, a more traditional format for schools offering language instruction to younger students. Proposal B would split one year of French or Spanish into a 1A class in seventh grade and a 1B class in eighth grade.

“This is something that other school districts have had success with so we know that it could work well,” Pacheco-Toye said.

If only one language were to be offered to the younger grades at a deeper level, it would be Spanish, and languages could be phased in later in the following order: French, Japanese and Chinese, the teacher committee said.

Pacheco-Toye said all members of the teacher committee agreed when it comes to a substantial language class, whether it’s proposal A or B, “anything would be better than nothing in the seventh grade.”

Jillian Daley can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and 503-636-1281, ext. 109. Follow her on Twitter, @JillianDaley.

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