Parents and students are once more rallying behind the German language program at Arlington Public Schools, the future of which is unclear.
When students returned to school on Monday, Aug. 30, those enrolled in German 2 and 3 found out they had no in-person teacher. They instead received links to virtual German classes taught by Fuel Ed and Oklahoma State University, respectively, while German I students were told to choose another language, as virtual education would not be conducive for beginning instruction.
Germanophiles are worried about the program’s existence now and in the long term. For some, it feels like déjà vu, as the community rallied around German and Japanese a few years ago when enrollment was low and APS was considering the future of these programs.
“APS is cutting programs, pushing things online, and making it harder to learn language, when they should be starting early, making it fun and making it so they are actually learning something,” said Suzette Lohmeyer, whose son is enrolled in German 3, and would’ve been bussed to the Arlington Career Center this year for German before his class went online.
Two weeks after school started, the school system tells ARLnow it now has a temporary teacher for German I until a permanent replacement is found. APS added that it remains committed “to providing strong in-person linguistic support” to German 2 and 3 students.
“Our current German teacher has agreed to stay and teach German synchronously (she will be virtual while the students will be at the Career Center with a classroom monitor) until a permanent replacement is found,” spokesman Frank Bellavia said. “Schools will begin modifying student-schedules so that they can begin German 1 by next week. We will continue with our search, but this news gives us time to make sure that we hire a highly qualified German teacher.”
This teacher had resigned before the start of the school year, and APS attributed the problems to the timing of her announcement.
“The timing of the departure of our German 1 teacher has presented some scheduling and recruitment challenges but we are committed to finding a solution,” Bellavia said.
Low enrollment has threatened German in the past. It has the fewest students enrolled of the world languages offered, according to APS data. While Japanese was also on the chopping block a few years ago, enrollment has since increased, resulting in a second teacher getting hired for this fall. German, meanwhile, hovered between 43 and 56 students between 2015 and 2020. This spring, 35 students listed German as their preferred course for the fall, according to APS.
Regardless of enrollment, Lohmeyer and Judith Davis, whose children are studying German and whose families are dual U.S.-German citizens, say the program should stay because one of Arlington’s sister cities is in Germany.
Further, the parents say that the now-returned teacher has been thrown under the proverbial bus. They have built a coalition of other families frustrated by situation, as well as other current and former students and parents, and are pushing for more information, greater transparency and stopgap solutions.
“We have a values gap at the moment,” Davis said. “This is not just a bunch of parents trying to cause trouble: We’re just saying ‘This is not acceptable.'”
Arlington Public Schools will not offer high school students beginner’s level Japanese and German classes this fall, and some parents and students are speaking out about it.
Much of the loudest advocacy has been geared toward supporting up the Japanese classes. Public comments after a world languages presentation at last week’s School Board meeting (May 3) focused on the ways that the Japanese classes have made an impact on students.
“It’s not just a language, it’s not just something people take because they want to get the advanced diploma,” said one student, Juliana Logan. “It’s not an easy language, we take it because we care and we want to learn more about it.”
Another student, Liam Mason, started a Change.org petition that, as of May 4 (Friday), had garnered more than 1,800 signatures over the past week. The petition isn’t clear as to how many of the signers are Arlington residents.
Mason spoke of his strong desire to learn the language, calling the news of the phase out “devastating.”
The demand for Japanese and German courses has shrunk in recent years, according to Arlington Public Schools spokesman Frank Bellavia.
In 2015-2016, 65 students signed up for German and 54 signed up for Japanese. By the next school year, 2016-2017, those numbers dropped to 42 and 37 students respectively.
Though the numbers rose by two students per language in 2017-2018, Bellavia said that the numbers for 2018-2019 German and Japanese enrollment were low. There were 33 requests for German, or six less than in 2017-2018, and 41 requests for Japanese.
Bellavia added in an email to ARLnow that the school system “often [has] attrition from level one to level two… that means that there are even smaller levels at the advanced language level.”
“Therefore, we have decided to use our resources for courses that have a greater level of interest throughout APS,” he said.
Supporters have noted that the reason for the relatively low requests, compared to much more popular languages like Spanish or French (with a respective 2,326 and 673 enrolled students in the last school year), is due to school counselors advising students to switch to Chinese and the lack of a Japanese and German option at the middle school level.
Mason described how many students tend to stick with their middle school language as they advance grade levels, and that German and Japanese are thus dealt an unfair hand during enrollment.
“Counselors have told children to disenroll and it’s not offered in middle school, [yet] numbers are increasing by a surprising margin,” said Mason. His comments continued, stating that he believed that the anticipated larger class sizes would add more students to the program.
According to Bellavia, the advice from counselors came after it was determined that there would be insufficient enrollment for the 2018-2019 school year:
APS counselors do not advocate for one world language course over another. Students were given the same opportunity to select Japanese and German as they were all world languages within APS. Each year, students select those courses they are interested in taking. Once all of the course requests are approved, school staff review the requests and then determine the number of sections needed for each course. Each year, there may be some courses for which there is not enough student interest to run the course. Once it was determined there was not enough interest to run Japanese and German for the 2018-19 school year with the current model, counselors advised students that another option would need to be selected.
We are in the process of determining other potential options for offering these languages to those students who are interested.
A committee, Save Japanese in Arlington Public Schools, has been formed by the parents and students, seeking a one year deferment of the decision to allow for community input.