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Peter’s Take: ‘Non’ for Now on French Immersion

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotAs ARLnow.com reported last week, a group of parents has petitioned Arlington Public Schools to inaugurate a new French immersion elementary school. Their motives are good, but their timing is not.

It’s been 15 years since I chaired what is now known as the World Languages Advisory Committee to APS. As chair, I was one of many civic activists who pressed APS to introduce Foreign Language in Elementary School (FLES) programs.

At that time, APS had no FLES programs and was actively resisting their introduction. Through the persistent efforts of that committee, combined with effective advocacy by hundreds of parents, APS finally began to roll out FLES.

Introduction of FLES was slowed during the Great Recession. Largely due to the outstanding energy and efforts of a new parent advocacy group, FLES for All, the introduction of FLES has resumed. But, some elementary schools still lack it:

Only 17 out of 22 Arlington elementary schools have foreign language education — leaving over 2,000 students without foreign language instruction until 7th grade.  ATS, Arlington Science Focus, Taylor and Long Branch are remaining to receive FLES and a full week of instruction. (Hoffman-Boston has [a] full week of instruction but no FLES, Abingdon has early language instruction but not K-5 FLES)

APS superintendent Patrick Murphy has stated that unless APS receives sufficient additional FY 2016 funding from the county, APS will not be able to complete the FLES rollout because APS will have to defer the elimination of early release Wednesday (ERW) at the elementary schools that still lack FLES.

APS consistently has taken the position that there “isn’t room in the school day” for FLES programs at ERW elementary schools. Most Arlington citizens without children are surprised and angry to learn that school ends at 1:21 p.m. every Wednesday at those elementary schools that still retain ERW.

Given the tight budget constraints facing APS and the County, APS should assign priority to the completion of the rollout of FLES at the elementary schools that still lack FLES. This rollout should be completed before APS begins to offer more immersion programs. After the FLES rollout is complete, APS should design a transparent process to consider additional immersion programs. (There currently are two Spanish immersion elementary programs offered at Claremont and Key.)

As we move forward, APS needs to treat World Languages as a core subject, and incorporate more language opportunities throughout the week to ensure maximum benefits. APS should try to increase the number of different languages it currently offers.

It’s taken 15 years to introduce FLES in 17 Arlington elementary schools. The rollout of FLES is almost complete. Let’s finish the job.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

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