This year, Loudoun County Public Schools Foreign Language Department added two new Spanish courses for students who speak Spanish fluently. Spanish for Fluent Speakers and Spanish Language Arts are designed for students who speak their native language but do not know how to read and write it well.
Spanish for Fluent Speakers is a literacy-based program designed to meet the needs of native speakers who speak and understand the language, but are functionally illiterate, Foreign Language Department chair Suzette Whys said.
The course was created with a goal in mind, to make students more literate in their first language, to help them learn English.
"It is impossible to do in a second language what you can’t do in your first language," Whys said.
In previous years, Spanish-speaking students enrolled in Spanish classes geared toward non-English speakers. Whys said these students were often bored in classes. Now, they will have the option to take a course geared toward their specific needs.
The course will be available to students in eighth through 12th grades and will be offered in 15 out of 20 of the county’s secondary schools, including Dominion, Park View and Potomac Falls high schools. Approximately 350 students have registered Spanish Language for Native Speakers Level I course, a foreign language elective.
Next year, Whys hopes to add a second level course to allow students to build their literacy skills.
THE FOREIGN Language Department added a new course to Sterling Middle School’s curriculum, Spanish Language Arts, to serve a similar purpose.
Spanish Language Arts will be offered to sixth- and seventh-graders who speak Spanish, but do not read and write it fluently.
"The goal is to make them fluent in two languages," Whys said.
Sterling Middle School Principal Michael Williams is excited about the new program.
"There are 10,000 Spanish speakers in Loudoun County, but very few read and write in Spanish," Williams said. "Research shows if they can read and write in their first language, they can pick up a second language more quickly."
Sterling Middle School will also offer Spanish for Fluent Speakers to its eighth-graders to prepare them for accelerated high-school Spanish classes and Advanced Placement (AP) Spanish classes.
"The goal is to take Latino people, formalize instruction to read and write in their language so they will acquire English more quickly," he said. "They will become more academically engaged."
Williams hopes these two programs will help close the school’s achievement gap.
"I think these programs will help ESL students connect with other academics much more quickly," he said.
Spanish Language Arts teacher Araceis Nieves agrees with the principal.
"If they master the Spanish language skills, they can transfer it to another language," the native-Spanish speaker said.
Not only will it help them learn English, but it is another way to promote their culture, she added, and it is an asset when applying for jobs in the future.
IN ADDITION to new Spanish programs, Loudoun County Public Schools spokesperson Wayde Byard said the school system added Chinese to the curriculum this year.
The course will introduce Chinese language and culture to students. By the end of the program, students will be able to speak, read, write on a basic level.
Chinese will be offered at Harmony Intermediate School and Broad Run and Loudoun Valley high schools