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District parents push for languages

A group of parents is working to bring foreign language programs to Valley middle schools, but they need fluent instructors to lead classes.

Chief Kanim Middle School used to offer Spanish classes, but the school district scrapped the trimester-long class for the upcoming academic year in order to equalize exploratory course offerings at the three middle schools.

Pat Martin said her son took a strong interest in Spanish while he studied it for a trimester as a sixth grade student last year. She wants to encourage that interest, so she’s joined other parents in exploring possibilities for an extracurricular foreign languages club.

Chief Kanim Principal Kirk Dunckel agreed that such a program would help students prepare for high school.

“If you can learn those languages at an early age, it’s easier to comprehend it,” he said.

At Chief Kanim, club sessions would probably be held either before school two days a week, or on Friday afternoons, when class releases early. That way, children wouldn’t have to choose between after-school sports and the club.

“This is a possibility for something even better than the exploratory class. It will be fewer days, but will last longer, and be more concentrated,” Martin said.

A recent online survey of about 70 Chief Kanim parents revealed a “huge interest” in foreign language programs, Martin said. Spanish was the most requested, while parents were also interested in French, Japanese, Chinese and German.

Dunckel said a program could be funded through “creative means.” There are district stipends for club coordinators, and PTSA and other grants could help with some transportation and materials costs.

“The goal would be to make (any participation fee) as minimal as possible,” Dunckel said.

Families would most likely have to figure out their own transportation to club meetings because busing for extracurricular activities is limited, Dunckel said.

Parent organizers have started actively looking for instructors.

“It would be great if we could find some members of the community, particularly retired teachers or perhaps teachers on leave for some reason, who are qualified to teach a language,” Liz Piekarczyk stated. Instructors don’t necessarily need to be certified, but should be fluent and otherwise qualified to teach.

Dunckel was optimistic that a program could get off the ground at Chief Kanim by second trimester this year.

“We definitely feel strongly that we want a foreign language program,” he said. “I think it’s an important aspect of school.”

Xiomara Pilon is pushing for a similar program at Twin Falls Middle School, where her son will enter the sixth grade this fall. It’s important to her that he starts learning a foreign language soon.

“After puberty, you process a foreign language in a different part of your brain, and it’s a little harder to learn. It gets difficult to lose a foreign accent,” she said.

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