¿Por qué? This is a question that ran through the minds of Spanish teachers and community members after the Perkiomen Valley School Board decided to eliminate elementary school Spanish at the May 11 meeting.
While this choice may have been a surprise to most, many people, especially Spanish teachers, sadly saw this coming. Señora Dotterer, a Spanish teacher at the high school said,“ We have been fighting this battle for at least a decade, but it still came as a little bit of a surprise. I thought our community valued the languages in the younger levels.” The languages were clearly not valued when classes dropped from 30 a year to 15 and now they have been removed altogether.
While 15 classes a year is a short amount of time to achieve substantial progress in anything, the school board should have taken this time as an opportunity to reevaluate their choices and work towards beneficial change. Instead, the whole program was scrapped, which makes it seem as though the board is admitting to having neglected the language. Spanish is a powerful language and tool that should always have a place in young minds.
Elementary school is the best time for children to learn a new language. According to Dr. Paul Thompson, a neurology professor at UCLA, “Children use the deep motor area of the brain, which controls unconscious actions, to absorb a second language.” Because children retain more knowledge while they are younger, it is vital that they are introduced to a new language as soon as possible. This early encounter also leads to students gaining more natural and native-sounding accents.
We live in a globalized world. Through business, technology, and social media, people all across the globe interact. It is no longer a good selling point on a resumé to be bilingual, but now a requirement. According to Workforce Essentials, “85% of employers rely on the Spanish language” and “People who speak more than one language earn 5% to 20% more on average than those who don’t.” Children exposed to Spanish at a young age have a better chance at a successful career, and this opportunity should not be taken from them.
The problem of undervaluing languages does not stem from only the school board, but from America as a whole. “In general, American students have a reputation for not taking language as seriously as their counterparts in other countries,” Señor Feick, the Spanish teacher at Skippack Elementary and South Elementary, said. Students in other countries know three or more languages, while the United States cannot bother to spend enough money or time on one additional language. The ignorant American stereotype will be forever present until actions are taken to show otherwise.
The eradication of the Spanish program in elementary school has also robbed children of important exposure to a diverse culture. “I think sometimes we just live in our little bubbles and we are not aware of what is going outside of our worlds,” Dotterer said. Learning a new language also encompasses learning a new culture and people. Students are able to understand others that are different from them and gain a better view of the world outside of PV. “Learning language is learning culture, ” Feick said, and it is necessary that students see their culture represented. By having a dedicated time in school, native Spanish speakers can connect to their English-speaking classmates by sharing their culture. But, through the elimination of Spanish in elementary school, “ It risks kids that speak a different language feeling isolated and alone, ” Ally Kelly, a senior at PV who takes AP Spanish and plans to minor in it at college, said.
Kelly also stated that “Spanish was an important part of my elementary education and I honestly can’t picture having school without it.” No one should have to fear that an important part of elementary school has disappeared, unfortunately, that is the reality we live in. Spanish should not have to be fought for. The school board should recognize its numerous cognitive and social benefits and give it the time it deserves in the curriculum. There is nothing more powerful in this world than knowledge, and the school district needs to reflect this mentality. If anyone still wonders why Spanish should be taught in elementary school, they need just to listen to the wise words of Señora Dotterer: “El español es fenomenal.”