The challenges of budget cuts and declining enrollment have taken their toll again on local schools as Nevada Union High School plans to discontinue French and German classes next year, to the dismay of foreign language teachers.
“It’s been wonderful to have a foreign language department, so I have to say I’m devastated, and the rest of the people in the department are devastated,” said Spanish teacher Gen Holloway.
The reduction was in response to financial challenges in the district, which faces declining enrollment in general, and lack of enrollment in those language classes, said Nevada Union principal Mike Blake.
“I don’t think anyone wanted to go there, but with the student demand and budget reductions, we had to eliminate those classes,” he said.
Students already enrolled in French and German will be able to continue their studies through completion, and the school is considering online language courses, Blake said.
The teachers will remain full-time, Blake said, as one will teach a different course of study and another will become a part of the online program and facilitate that instruction.
The beginning journalism class was also on the chopping block and will not be offered next year due to lack of interest, Blake said.
“We’re simply at a point now where we can’t run classes that have incredibly low numbers, because what happens is those numbers get absorbed and other class counts get high,” Blake said.
Journalism teacher Lynn McDaniel said the curriculum from the beginning journalism class will be taught in the advanced class.
“We will not let the student voice die on the Nevada Union campus,” she said.
But teaching the basics of newswriting at the same time as students are expected to write for the paper seems unrealistic, said Spencer Kellar, a senior and the editor of the Nevada Union Gold Pan.
“I don’t understand how kids are supposed to come into advanced journalism and get a crash course in such a short amount of time,” Kellar said. “It doesn’t seem viable to me. My worry is that they are going to cut journalism altogether.”
In the midst of these class cuts, Nevada Union will offer an additional class, as Advanced Placement environmental science has been added to the schedule.
“We received some incentive money from AP to get some training and materials, so we’ll be offering that in the fall,” Blake said. “That’s exciting for us in terms of bringing a new class onboard.”
The AP identified Nevada Union as a school that would particularly benefit from the class, he said. Teachers will be provided with paid training on the subject.
“It broadens the scope of our science program and increases the offering of advanced classes for college-bound students,” Blake said.
Bear River, which has also faced declining enrollment, will reduce the number of some of their classes but is not eliminating anything next year, said Principal Jim Nieto.
Those classes include English class, freshman technology, a computer class that includes keyboarding and office suites, and freshman health, the ninth-grade health requirement.
Bear River also may have to eliminate its drama class, he said.
“We’re trying to see if we have the staffing, requests and rooms for allocations for sections to do that,” Nieto said. “That decision will be made by the end of the school year.”
Bear River discontinued its French class nine years ago, Nieto said, and to his knowledge had never offered German.
Nevada Union will consider Apex online classes, which use audio recordings, animations, formative exercises and interactive simulations, according to its website.
Teachers have expressed concern that online classes will fail to educate students as effectively as in-class instruction.
“I believe there’s a place for online classes and having those options is good, but I believe it is a poor way to go about teaching a foreign language,” said German teacher Jeff Kirkpatrick, who will teach freshman English and world history in addition to a combined German III and IV class next year.
“I’m most passionate about teaching German for sure, and it’s depressing,” said Kirkpatrick.
“I was involved in the exchange program (where students study in Germany and German students study at Nevada Union) and that inspired me to later study German and teach, and that’s going to be going away,” he said.
The special connection with teaching a foreign language is something Kirkpatrick said will be greatly missed.
“It doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy teaching other subjects, but there’s something special about the interaction with a foreign language class,” he said. “Students travel with me year to year and there’s a sense of community.”
With the emphasis on Spanish classes, teachers expect an increase in Spanish students, which translates to more challenges and less effective instruction, said Holloway.
“I think our classes will be bigger, and it’s going to affect the ability to get to all of the students all of the time,” she said, adding that the biggest impact will be the Spanish I and II class, as colleges recommend two years of a language.
A foreign language class benefits students in a global economy, Holloway said, and even helps students better understand the word parts of their own language.
“They learn word endings and beginnings that help their vocabulary in English,” she said.
The language class reduction makes the school less competitive, Holloway said, and that “was one of the big offers to students that charter schools don’t have,” she said.
The teachers said they understand the reason for the reduction and hope the classes can be revived someday.
“I can’t point the fingers at anyone, as they say it’s the times, but people need to know that maybe we need to spend more money on education and have more respect for education,” Holloway said.
To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4230.