Board discusses future of French-only program

Language-immersion program called success

July 15, 1999|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

School board members are again considering ending a French language program at Crofton Woods Elementary School.

Yesterday, the board sat through a presentation that showed how successful the French Immersion program has been in teaching first-, second- and third-graders not only French, but their other subjects too -- all of which are taught in French.

Running a program that benefits only a small number of the district's 73,000 students has long made the French classes a target of budget cutters on the board.

"My vote is always going to be to expand early-language learning," board member Carlesa Finney said during the board's regular meeting yesterday. "Maybe not using this model. But we can't do anything until I have the answers to some questions."

She asked Patti Orndorff, the school system's foreign language coordinator, how other schools could get language enrichment and about ways to teach young children new languages besides immersion.

What started as a pilot program three years ago at the school was cut back by the board last summer during a budget crisis. The board voted to cut the kindergarten class out of the program, and this year, only three grades are participating. The program is scheduled to continue for five years, when the third-graders now enrolled finish fifth grade.

The voluntary French-only classes have not been universally popular with Crofton Woods parents. Some feared it would change Crofton Woods from a neighborhood school into a magnet school, and some complained that those participating, fewer than 10 percent of the school's 600 pupils, got privileges other county pupils did not.

Last year, a consultant recommended moving the program to a magnet school, even though Anne Arundel County has no magnet school, and giving standardized tests to measure how pupils were progressing.

Yesterday, the board reviewed test scores comparing pupils in the program with those not in it. The scores indicated that French Immersion is a successful teaching method.

"I had always thought that a pilot program has a beginning and an end," Finney said. "We are at a crossroads with this now."

The board made no decisions about the program yesterday beyond promising to ask Orndorff and her staff to look into ways of expanding foreign language instruction to other schools.

In other business yesterday, the board voted in a new president -- Paul Rudolph of Severna Park. Board member Vaughn Brown of West County will take Michael McNelly's place as vice president. Rudolph had preceded McNelly in the position last year.

Yesterday's meeting was the last for Thomas Florestano of Annapolis, whose five-year term is over. Gov. Parris N. Glendening is expected to name his replacement soon. The two contenders -- Tony Spencer of Annapolis and Carol Stott of Arnold -- sat in the audience yesterday.

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