School Board Approves New Middle School Course on World Languages and Cultures

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Thursday, January 30, 2020, 7:30 am
Emily Joan Elliott

Above: Kimberly Floyd presenting to the Board of Education (photo by Raymond Holt)

Children tend to learn languages best when they are younger, but the current East Lansing curriculum does not provide children in younger grades with much foreign language instruction. MacDonald Middle School teacher Kimberly Floyd is looking to change this and this week received support of the ELPS Board of Education.

Floyd presented the proposed course, Sixth Grade World Languages and Cultures, to the School Board on Monday, Jan. 27, laying out plans to introduce students to the “Big Three” foreign languages offered in East Lansing Public Schools: French, Spanish, German. However, Floyd is also working to include some instruction in Arabic, Islam, and Muslim cultures in the new elective, which is expected to be offered beginning in Fall 2020.

As of now, students can begin studying a foreign language during seventh grade. Parents, teachers, and the Board of Education have long been interested in earlier foreign language instruction, but beginning in sixth grade seemed to pose more problems than rewards.

Starting the curriculum one-year earlier meant moving too many teachers between the middle and high schools. Additionally, conventional introductory foreign language courses — even when taught to seventh-graders — are taught at the high school level, which may prove too challenging for many sixth-graders.

The newly approved course is designed to remedy this situation. The course will provide an introduction to select vocabulary, learned in conjunction with the languages’ cultures. The course is aimed at being more developmentally appropriate for younger learners.

Board Treasurer Kath Edsall pointed out that the exposure to multiple languages in this course will allow students to make more informed decisions about the languages they may elect to study in seventh grade.

The course also offers a chance for community engagement and for highlighting the talents of MacDonald’s bilingual students. Edsall suggested that the wider community, particularly the Islamic Center of East Lansing, might be interested in collaboration given its dedication to outreach and practice of offering classes to the community, such as through its Islam-101 series.

Floyd agreed and stated, “It’s a great time for students to shine. We have so many bilingual students in our District. If they’re taking the class, I’d like to leave time in there for them to give a give a quick presentation on languages like Urdu or Chinese.”

The Board was enthusiastic about the course proposal.

President Erin Graham said that she has been a proponent of earlier foreign language instruction for the entirety of her time on the Board.

Terah Chambers, Board Secretary, acknowledged that, “There is a tension between wanting to do something really substantive but also reaching as many cultures and languages and student populations as we can.” However, she concluded, “There is so much possibility with a class like this. There is so much positive coming through this.”

While the course is set to be offered in Fall 2020, MacDonald is still determining how the course will fit into its system of electives, which now are divided between technology and fine arts classes.

The expectation is for Kimberly Floyd to teach the course. In addition to fluency in French, Floyd is capable of teaching introductory Spanish and German. Since she is also committed to bringing Arabic and Muslim cultures into the curriculum, she is currently studying Arabic on her own.

The curriculum is designed to be flexible enough to allow other teachers to take over and to bring in other cultures and languages over time. © 2013-2020 East Lansing Info