Darien school administrators have revived a proposal to add Spanish language classes at the town's elementary schools, citing studies supporting the practice and nearby districts that are already doing the same.
Judith Pandolfo, assistant superintendent of elementary education, introduced the idea at Wednesday's Board of Education meeting. Her presentation echoed a similar plan and — one that was ultimately in the face of mounting special education costs.
Pandolfo cited the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Language, the Center for Applied Linguistics, and other academic institutions in praising the benefits of teaching another language to young students.
“We recognize a foreign language gives students a better understanding of their own language,” Pandolfo said. “Spanish is used in our communities, and uses the same alphabet as our language.
"This is our vision: learning and the use of Spanish will be infused into the culture of the school," she added.
The proposal would add $344,000 to the operating budget and includes five additional teachers at $64,000 apiece, supplies at $23,000, and curriculum development at $1,250.
As part of the curriculum, students would also learn Spanish words in music, art, and physical education. Each class of elementary school students would receive 45 minutes of Spanish instruction per week.
“We are looking to develop a comprehensive program to provide what we think is best for our students,” Superintendent Stephen Falcone said.
"We believe it is important to have a foreign language component. It will heighten students’ interests of other cultures, and enable students to use language at an appropriate level," he added.
Board member James Plutte voiced support for the proposal but said he wished it were more ambitious.
“I like the idea of having 45 minutes in one section, because it is a significant amount of time,” Plutte said. “Our kids will hear Spanish wherever they go: at the store, and at the gas station. It gives us an opportunity."
More than 35 people attended the meeting, some of whom addressed the board directly.
Cindy Brown — a Darien mother of four who speaks French, Hungarian, and English — advocated for comprehensive foreign language classes in kindergarten through fifth grade.
“Kids remember by repeating words,” Brown said. “If it is world language, then why not introduce French rather than only Spanish?
“There is probably a ten-to-one ratio of parents who support this program versus parents who oppose this program,” said Michael Devlin, a Darien father of three. “I would hate to see a great program be scuttled because of a difficult economic time.”
Newly-appointed chairman Elizabeth Hagerty-Ross temporarily cut off discussion of the issue to allow the board to move onto the rest of its agenda but invited Darien parents to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.