Arlington middle school and high school students will be able to enroll in after-school Arabic and Chinese classes this fall, and receive college credit, after the School Board unanimously approved the new courses.
The two courses will be offered in a county-wide program and will be taught by Northern Virginia Community College professors at one of the college’s facilities in Arlington.
“This is a good first step, and I envision the program growing in the years to come,” said School Board member Ed Fendley, who made adding new languages to the school program one of his main campaign issues this past fall. “Especially with languages as difficult as these, we need to make the courses as accessible as possible.”
School officials determined that the demand for these courses was too low for them to be offered in any one school and that a single countywide program would be more practical.
The classes will be held in the late afternoon, so as not to interfere with school sports and other activities. The courses will most likely be offered two or three times a week and will last close to two hours, said Mark Johnston, assistant superintendent for instruction.
School officials will evaluate the enrollment figures and effectiveness of the courses next fall to determine if they ought to be expanded. This provision helped allay the concerns of School Board Chair David Foster, who expressed dismay that the program will not initially be offered in the schools during the day.
“If I’m right, there will be a high interest in these courses, and we will get them into the schools,” Foster said in an interview after the Jan. 19 School Board meeting.
School officials promised to assist students with transportation to the courses, which will most likely be held at an NVCC-leased site in Ballston.
MANY IN THE COMMUNITY have requested the school system add the two languages to the curriculum because of their growing significance for economic and national security reasons.
Yorktown High School junior James Randle told the School Board that by offering these courses, they were broadening student’s understanding of the world and giving them an edge on their college applications.
“This makes us more competitive within the Virginia school network and sets us apart,” said Randle, who lived in China when he was younger.
Other speakers urged the School Board to begin teaching these and other languages to elementary school students, noting that young children are more adept at picking up a new language.
“These are very difficult languages to learn, and it is vital to offer them to students beginning in elementary school,” said Tecla Murphy, chair of the Foreign Language Advisory Committee.
In response to resident concerns, School Board members proposed scheduling a public work session to provide a more in-depth forum to debate the school foreign language program.
“The members are interested in the broader question of how we approach languages in our schools,” Fendley said. “I would very much like to see us discuss an overall approach, so every kid can become proficient in a foreign language.
School officials are in contact with their counterparts in Alexandria and Falls Church to gauge their interest in having students attend the Arabic and Chinese courses in Arlington.