MADISON, Ala. - The Madison City Schools system is expanding its world languages program with the goal that every student will eventually become fluent in a different language, Superintendent Robby Parker said.
Parker explained that since he has been superintendent, the district has added language classes in three grades with more to come. Not only is the district adding new classes in each grade level, but they are expanding what languages are taught.
"Grades k-6, we want to really expose the kids to these world languages. And we believe that will move even more into choosing to do it in grades 7-12," he said. "The only grade we are missing now is fifth, and we are going to add that one next year so we can completely close that gap."
Parker told us at least 75% of Madison students take at least two years of a world language, but he wants to see participation increase.
In fact, he wants to see students fluent by graduation in the coming years.
"What we are wanting to do is we want to offer students from k-12 a world language every year," he stated. "We want every child to be fluent in a second language. There is an actual test for fluency and we plan to administer that to our students as we go through. We want every child to be fluent. We think that's a game-changer for them and their life."
This year, the school system added a Survey of World Languages class for sixth graders. Students can choose between Mandarin, Latin, German, and French. Leaders say they can take a class that offers rotation of these languages, or just focuses in on one. A language class is now mandatory for sixth graders. Seventh graders can also take the class this year.
"I think it just opens up a new world to them," said Kitty Mingus, a French teacher in the district. We caught up with her class at Liberty Middle School. "It gives them a lot of enthusiasm for learning about new cultures."
She said she has been impressed with the sixth graders' energy for language learning.
"I think it opens up the opportunity for them to decide, 'Do I want to do this when I get to high school? Which language do I like the most?'" she commented. "It just gives them a little taste of it so they are ready to move forward in high school."
Mingus said she teaches her class through listening, and mimicking, instead of just relying on textbooks.
"I think that doing it at this pace and level takes away some of the fear they may have in a high school class," she explained.
Emerson Lobes, a sixth graders in Mingus' French class, said she enjoys learning French like her mom did when she was younger.
"My mom said she was going to take me to Paris, so it helps me to get ready for that. And maybe I'll help my sister, because I'm going to make her take this class because it's so fun!" she said.
But Lobes also sees other benefits for understanding French.
"It's been really fun to learn and see how different it is from English," she said. "Since I am a ballet dancer, a lot of French is mixed in there. It is a good opportunity to help with my dancing."
Parker said that's what it's all about.
"We want to empower students for global success. And we believe for a student to be successful globally, certainly one of the cornerstones of that is to be able to communicate," he added. "We feel like this will make them competitively worldwide."