At Falmouth High School’s World Language Awards Ceremony May 20, Angelina Dvorak, Abigail Pope, Grace Kwon, John Walsh, Daniel Mark-Welch and Abigail Turner were recognized for receiving “intermediate-high” scores in this year’s Standards-Based Measure of Proficiency, or STAMP, test for language proficiency.
These students had all studied Spanish, French and/or Latin, and their families, teachers and peers were rightfully proud of their linguistic achievements.
“We’re finding ways to honor our students for world language achievement parallel to their achievement in their English studies and keeping our eyes on what’s appropriate for both colleges and career opportunities. We’re also honoring our English learners for their fluency in the language they speak when they enroll with us and the command they have in English,” Assistant Superintendent Sonia Tellier said. “We’re really honoring multilingualism, because some of our students speak three or four languages.”
Earlier this decade the high school also offered courses in Portuguese and Mandarin Chinese, which were discontinued, in part due to low enrollment.
While the number of world languages offered in Falmouth classrooms is now down to three (French, Latin and Spanish) at the high school and two at Lawrence School (minus Latin), the world language department is still going strong and looking to grow again over time, Patricia A. DiPillo, the department’s chairman for grades 7 to 12, said recently.
The end of this school year marks two major changes for Dr. DiPillo’s department. The current 8th-grade class, which is significantly larger than its neighboring classes, will leave Lawrence School, while three world language teachers will retire: at Lawrence, French and Spanish teacher Edward Priest and French teacher Adrienne Forns, and at the high school, Latin teacher Susan Twitchell.
The schools are working to fill all three positions, and administrators are studying enrollment trends to understand which world language students want to study at Lawrence and the impact that will have at the high school, Dr. Tellier said.
“We had attempted to teach Mandarin Chinese at the high school three or four years ago, and unfortunately not enough students elected that language to sustain it. Nearly a decade ago we offered Portuguese, which, in a community like Falmouth, we would really love to be able to offer. Teachers build relationships with their students, and retirements impact students’ course selection, but I can’t imagine in an increasingly global society that we would only offer one language,” she said.
As a graduation requirement, Falmouth students must take two years of the same world language at the high school level following the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s standards that match the minimum state college entrance requirements, said Dr. DiPillo, who would like to see the district’s graduation requirement increased to three years.
“If a district wants to have top language students, then it needs to have not only more languages but also more years of languages. Most districts in Massachusetts have a two-year requirement, some have three, and some have none,” she said.
The high school offers French and Spanish honor societies as well as exchange programs in each language. Grade 12 world language students may apply for the Massachusetts Seal of Biliteracy.
Students in the honor societies are working with 5th and 6th graders in Morse Pond School’s enrichment program, and there is interest in expanding language offerings at the younger grades. However, scheduling classes and funding new teaching positions are continual challenges, Dr. DiPillo said.
“The superintendent [Lori S. Duerr] has hired a consulting firm to look at potential scheduling issues at Morse Pond and Lawrence to encourage the vertical progression of the curriculum from school to school,” she said.
Dr. Tellier said that “to introduce another course you have to figure out where in the day that would happen and consider the impact on what’s currently being offered.”
“The second part is the fiscal piece, having the funds to hire an additional staff member. In the long range that’s certainly a goal to which we aspire, but there’s not an immediate action plan,” she said.
Building awareness of world languages and cultures early on is crucial to increasing enrollments, Dr. DiPillo said.
“I believe Morse Pond is ripe in wanting to have languages there. I want to do awareness days down there and have language clubs at the junior high. There are ways to promote enrollment. Some of it is teachers; some of it is exposure. This is a district that is focused on literacy, and earning a language develops your literacy because of the amount of vocabulary and the reading skills that you need to have. It’s coming,” she said.
Dr. DiPillo’s voice is heard far beyond Falmouth, in her role as an executive in the Massachusetts Foreign Language Association.
“I’m running a state conference in 2020, and my conference theme is interculturality, creating cross-cultural connections,” she said.
Dr. Tellier echoed the importance of such connections in helping shape the district’s world language curriculum.
“It’s balancing the number and range of languages that our English learners speak in their homes with their families among their communities. It’s trying to understand what are the languages in our community. At the same time, when I reference that we’re increasingly global, it’s understanding what are the languages that our students would be best served to learn to be competitive in a global society. And we look at what other districts in the region are offering,” she said.
For students who wish to learn a language that does not have a full-time teacher, there are blended learning opportunities available, in which a portion of the time is spent using online programs, Dr. Tellier said.
“If you had one or two students express an interest in learning German, there are ways that we could support students in doing that. It’s also making sure that it’s done in a way that if a student doesn’t have a community of speakers with whom they’re regularly interacting, the design of the program offers them that interaction because the whole conversational piece—speaking and listening—lends itself to fluency sometimes far more quickly than just learning vocabulary and grammar on one’s own,” she said.