Opinion: Chenery Teachers See Firsthand Impacts of Budget Cuts

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)

 

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Comments

  1. Alethea says

    My family and I are new to Belmont. It was a hard decision to leave friends and family behind in California, but drastic budget cuts there over the years have left its schools in tough shape. Our district didn’t offer any foreign language instruction in middle school at all, and I couldn’t accept that for my children. I began studying French in middle school, and I took it every year all the way until I graduated from high school. If it weren’t for the richness of course offerings, including advanced level French courses, I would not have been able to study French at the level I did in college . My junior year I went to Paris, where I studied at the Sorbonne, and was able to hold my own in a classroom full of French people. That opportunity changed my life, not just because I learned another language, but because an experience like that actually changes the way you think about things for the rest of your life. Even if you don’t end up using a foreign language in your every day life or career, just knowing how to express thoughts in another language does wonderful things for the mind. I hope Belmont voters keep in mind that educational offerings such as foreign languages are not just a nice “plus” for kids if and when the budget allows–these are vital courses that have the power to change a kid’s life, to make him/her a more critical thinker, to open up new ways of seeing the world. I would not be who I am today without my French background, and I am so sad to imagine that a new generation of kids might not have access to the same level of opportunity.

  2. Chris Lewis says

    Foreign languages is a joke– a tremendous waste of time and money. Our children should be more focused on math and science, the things that will create real prosperity in their lives. The best and really only effective way to learn a language is to truly immerse yourself by living abroad. Let our kids do this on their own dime when they enter college. If that isn’t good enough for you, buy Rosetta Stone. Furthermore, this is not a news site.

    • says

      Editor: Mr. Lewis, please read your fellow commentator, Alethea, on the value of foreign language instruction. Also, below is a paragraph from an essay about our country’s lack of foreign language education:

      “We should care – a lot – about our foreign language deficit. We need diplomats, intelligence and foreign policy experts, politicians, military leaders, business leaders, scientists, physicians, entrepreneurs, managers, technicians, historians, artists, and writers who are proficient in languages other than English. And we need them to read and speak less commonly taught languages (for which funding has recently been cut by the federal government) that are essential to our strategic and economic interests, such as Farsi, Bengali, Vietnamese, Burmese and Indonesian.”

      The essay was not in an academic journal, but in “Forbes,” a publication which knows something about creating real prosperity.

      As for this publication, I like to think of it as a media destination that allows anyone the opportunity to speak on any topic, whether they are well-versed in it or not.

      Thank you for your comments.

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