Plan includes world language for elementary students 

REGION 16 — Region 16 took its first step in offering world languages to elementary students last school year. If everything goes as planned, the district will take a couple larger steps in the near future.

As part of a five-year strategic plan for the district, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, officials hope to hire a new full-time world language teacher for the elementary schools in the 2019-20 school year. According to the plan, the teacher would be shared between Laurel Ledge Elementary School and Prospect Elementary School, and teach grades four and five.

Another full-time world language teacher for the elementary schools would be hired in the 2020-21 school, under the plan. The second teacher would allow for students in grades three through five to have two 40-minute world language classes a week, according to the plan.

The average cost for a new teacher is about $60,000, including benefits.

Offering world language at the elementary level has long been a desire of the Region 16 Board of Education. Last year, the district offered two sessions of an afterschool enrichment world language program at Laurel Ledge and Prospect Elementary.

The program introduced third-, fourth- and fifth-graders to Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese through a mix of classroom instruction and independent learning with Rosetta Stone software. The program was limited to about 50 students each session.

Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin said the district will run the enrichment program again this year, but would like to do more.

School board Chair Robert Hiscox said the district wants to give elementary students the opportunity to explore world language. He said studying a world language allows students to learn about different cultures and is part of the district’s larger mission of preparing students to be “worldwide citizens.”

While school officials agree teaching world language at the elementary level would be an asset to students, adding it into the school day would be a challenge.

“The issue is what does it take the place of during the day,” Hiscox said.

School districts are mandated to spend a certain amount of time on core subjects, like English and math. Aside from adding world language teachers, the district is also looking to add two full-time certified science teachers over the next two school years to run in-depth science labs at the elementary schools.

The push for the science teachers is in response to the new Next Generation Science Standards.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” Yamin said. “In order to put something in, you have to take something out.”

Yamin said there is value in having intense science labs and world language at the elementary level, but that everything has to be prioritized, and officials have to consider what areas students need the most time in and what is fiscally responsible.

“It’s really what does the community want, and what do we think we can put in to give our kids opportunities and a plethora of programs so that we see enrichment,” Yamin said. “So kids can find out what they’re good at, what they enjoy and where they’ll be successful.”

The strategic plan is a guide for the direction of the region, and hiring the world language teachers is not set in tone.

“But, if you don’t start planning and looking at something, you never get there,” Hiscox said.