GREENFIELD — When Greenfield Central Junior High School students return to classes Aug. 3, the chatter of eager young learners will fill the halls as it always has — but this year, more of that talk will be in a foreign language.
The junior high will offer two new language courses to eighth-graders in the 2015-16 school year: an introduction to world languages course, providing overviews of French, Spanish and German, and an introductory Spanish course that will transfer for high school credit. The effort aims to give students a global perspective, as well as boost the process of learning a foreign language by exposing students to different cultures at an earlier age.
“We’ve found that the earlier our students are able to begin accumulating vocabulary and knowledge of a language, the better they’ll be equipped for their futures,” said Ann Vail, assistant superintendent of Greenfield-Central School Corp. “There’s somewhat of a growing expectation that students who want to continue into higher education or certain job fields possess foreign language skills.”
The junior high’s new program is designed to give students a head start toward those goals, Vail said.
A new teacher, Gladys Singleton, has been hired to teach the subjects. Five sections of the one-semester introduction course will be taught, while the single section of first-year Spanish will run the entire school year.
When the district opened Greenfield Central Junior High School in 2010, it offered a world language course that covered French, Spanish, German and Japanese. After the instructor left following the 2012-13 school year and a replacement wasn’t readily available, the program was discontinued.
Superintendent Harold Olin said the district wanted to restore the program as early as possible but had to make some adjustments to find the right person to lead the way.
“We found it was very difficult to hire someone who could give equal attention to those four languages,” he said. “We also found that Spanish, in particular, received much more interest than the others, which is one of the reasons we’ve added that first-year course.”
The introduction to world languages course is designed to give students enough exposure to each language to determine which they might be interested in studying at Greenfield-Central High School, which offers courses in all three languages, Vail said.
“Now almost all of our students will have a sense of which language they’re interested in, and those who take first-year Spanish could start up a second language their freshman year,” Vail said.
Offering first-year Spanish at the junior-high level also will give students a boost toward obtaining an academic honors diploma, which requires three years of foreign language, Vail said.
Singleton, who’s taught first-year Spanish for three years to high school and middle school students, said working with children when they’re younger can offer them a distinct advantage.
“They’re like sponges,” she said. “They absorb so much so quickly, and they’re usually really enthusiastic about learning another language. I’ve also found that students develop much better accents when you start at a younger age.”
The key to achieving proficiency in any language is practicing it whenever an opportunity arises, said Singleton, who’s fluent in Filipino, Spanish and English.
“I tell my students to use the language whenever they have the chance, at a restaurant or anywhere else,” she said. “When they feel comfortable doing that, that’s when I feel like I’ve done my job.”