Fifth-graders with a “passion and ability” for languages will be able to have intensive language instruction when they get to middle school this fall, said Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield.
The Hall County Board of Education voted Monday to begin planning for an interest-based middle school academy that would focus on Spanish and Mandarin Chinese.
The new program would be housed with the Da Vinci Academy — an arts, science and technology program — in South Hall Middle School.
“We’ve had such a positive response from our focus on world languages over the last several years that we’ve known in our hearts that it’s a 21st century skill,” Schofield said. “It’s something a segment of our community is really buying into. They see the value of this for the next generation.”
Rising Hall County sixth-graders who are passionate about learning Spanish and Mandarin Chinese and have some knowledge of the languages will be considered for one of the 50 seats in the program.
“It’ll be the same competitive process that we’ve used for Da Vinci,” Schofield said. “We have a lot of students in our district who are bi- or trilingual and have a real passion in international languages, and this will be an option for those students.”
Though the new program will not be tied to the World Language Academy, Principal David Moody believes many of his students will be interested in applying.
“This year’s group — if they choose to go there in sixth grade — they will have had two years, a good bit, of exposure to Spanish and Chinese,” Moody said. “They’re going to be further along when they hit the sixth grade compared to their peers at other schools that haven’t had any exposure.”
The middle school language program will be even more appropriate in a few years when the current second-graders at World Language Academy reach the sixth grade. They will be the first group to experience language immersion — learning most subjects in Spanish — throughout elementary school.
“By then they’ll pretty much be bilingual, biliterate, where they can read, write, speak and listen in two languages,” Moody said.
“They’ll have five years of Chinese, so they’ll have a pretty good grip on that, though that’s a different ball of wax. It takes a lot longer.”
The new program will draw on existing resources so there will be no additional costs.
“It not only is interest-based and very individualized for the students but it’s a very financially efficient model for teaching,” Schofield said. “I fully expect we’ll start seeing these interest-based academies pop up in other locations in Hall County.”
Schofield said the enthusiasm students and parents have shown for foreign language learning was a big motivator in developing the middle school language academy.
“It is just so satisfying to see families and children excited about their education, and that’s the piece that’s been missing from this current culture of testing everybody every time they turn around,” Schofield said. “We’re forgetting that we have to engage learners to get them into deep and meaningful learning.”