School System Bucks Foreign Language Decline Trend

The Tulare school system in California promotes Spanish and Portuguese classes for its students. Here’s the story by Victor Garcia from The Visalia Times Delta, August 26, 2010:

Tulare high schools are bucking a trend when it comes to foreign-language classes.

Budget cuts and lack of demand for certain foreign-language offerings are forcing some area school districts to reconsider their language programs.

In Tulare, however, Spanish and Portuguese language classes are fuller than ever.

For at least eight years the Tulare Joint Union High School District has offered Portuguese rather than French at its three high schools.

“There’s always kids who want to take Spanish and Portuguese,” said Tony Rodriguez, assistant superintendent of human resources.

Tulare has a large Portuguese population. The district used to offer French, Rodriguez said, but cut the program because of lack of interest.

The district, which includes Tulare Western, Tulare Union and Mission Oak high schools, offers 67 Spanish classes and 17 Portuguese classes, Rodriguez said.

Dennis Borges, Tulare Union High School Portuguese teacher, said his classes are routinely filled to capacity. Portuguese enrollment at Tulare Union: 205.

“This year is a record,” he said. “I’ve always had 180 to 200 students.”

Most other school districts offer Spanish as the main foreign language, with French as an alternative choice. The Visalia Unified School District is phasing out its German program and Woodlake Union High School District may eliminate its French program, said Tim Hire, Woodlake Public Schools superintendent.

“We scaled [French] back to three years and are anticipating scaling it back to two years,” Hire said. “Unless the enrollment numbers pick up, it may be phased out completely.”

Woodlake tries to keep class sizes between 25 and 34 students.

This year officials combined their French II and III offerings to fill the classroom, Hire said.

Woodlake offered German until about 2000-01, Hire said.

“I think the same kind of thing happened,” he said. “The demand dwindled.”

Visalia Unified does not offer German at El Diamante High School and on Tuesday eliminated fourth-year German, until further notice, at its other high school campuses.

At the district more than 1,400 students take Spanish, 400 take French and 200 take German.

“We are trying to strengthen the [Spanish and French] offerings we have at the four high schools,” Wheaton said.

The Porterville Unified School District offers Spanish and French at all high schools and Chinese at Harmony Magnet Academy, a charter school.

“At the time it was established, we realized there’s incredible advantages from an international business standpoint to know and understand Chinese,” said John Snavely, Porterville Unified superintendent.

Dinuba Unified School District offers Spanish and French.

The California State University and University of California systems require incoming freshmen to have taken a minimum of two years of foreign language in high school.

No state law requires schools to offer a foreign language, Borges said, but their importance is obvious.

“In a global market,” he said, “you are going to be doing business with people who don’t speak your language.”

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