Photo: Foreign language learning.
As experienced foreign language teachers who have each been teaching at the Chenery Middle School for more than a decade, we have seen firsthand the harmful effects in our classrooms of the ongoing town budget crisis.
Over the years, class sizes have increased greatly, limiting the amount of personal attention that each student receives. Special educators are not available during foreign language instructional times, so the foreign language teacher is solely responsible for the learning of all students at all times. Increasing student enrollment, along with plans to cut one section of foreign language, will continue to exacerbate this issue.
Another troubling trend affecting all students at the middle school is the dramatic increase in the size of study halls. Some study halls in the middle school have 90 students or more, and it is not unusual for a student to have two study halls in one day. In a large group study hall, only two teachers are attending to a very large group of students. These large group study halls are held in the auditorium or the cafeteria, spaces which lack access to technology and also are not conducive to productivity and self-directed learning. The increase in study halls is a clear result of lack of funding for our school. This hurts students directly because they have less direct instructional time. It also hurts them indirectly because teachers are responsible for covering these study halls when, previously, this time (which amounts to 100 minutes in each six-day cycle) was spent on personal planning and collaborating with department members and teams.
Lack of funding for our schools has also resulted in the cutting of important coursework for our students. Even though studies have shown that the earlier children begin to learn a foreign language, the better chance they have to become fluent, Belmont Schools, facing budget constraints in the 2013-14 scchool year, eliminated the 5th grade foreign language program, which had existed for almost ten years. The 5th grade program was an important introduction to all four foreign languages offered: Spanish, French, Latin and Chinese. As a result, students now begin their foreign language studies a full year later and also must choose a language to study after minimal exposure (a brief 15 minute introduction as opposed to the former 15 lessons). On the other end of the spectrum, without an override, fifth year and AP foreign language courses will no longer be offered. This will deny Belmont High School students the opportunity to advance in their foreign language studies.
Another negative consequence of the budget shortfall is the slashing of funds for professional development work. Not only are teachers not fully reimbursed for the costs of their professional courses and workshops, but also substitute coverage is no longer available. In our case, this severely limits our ability to take part in many opportunities to learn how other innovative foreign language teachers are engaging their students.
Taking all of this into account, it is difficult to imagine how the students in our classrooms and in our school would thrive under additional budget cuts. We ask you to support the override so that Belmont can continue to provide a quality education for all students.
Beth Manca (grade 6, 7 & 8 Latin)
Amy Sánchez (grade 6 & 7 Spanish)
Elizabeth Pruitt (grade 6 & 7 French and Spanish)