This year at Hillsboro Elementary School, students are not just learning the basics of English, but Spanish as well.
Elementary school principal Evan Yoder went on a trip to Germany over the summer. While on the train, Yoder spoke to children and their parents and was amazed, he said, with how the children knew German and English fluently, along with other various languages.
Hillsboro elementary students sporadically learned Spanish over the past three years, but it was on the train this summer when Yoder decided he wanted to introduce a more formal foreign language program to students.
“I’m tickled that we’re doing it and that we finally have a program,” Yoder said.
Meeting Mondays and Wednesdays, librarian Sandy Arnold teaches students various phrases and words in Spanish, and offers an online program that students can use at home.
While it is not a full class, Yoder said it’s a start.
“These are baby steps,” Yoder said. “If we can keep doing it, I know there are some kids that would just take off with it. I’ve already heard from parents that their kids want to speak it at home and they’re looking up words.”
Yoder cited future employment as one reason for teaching a foreign language in elementary school.
“Think of the job opportunities,” Yoder said. “These kids could be able to go to an employer and say ‘I can do this but I’m also fluent in Spanish.’”
One of the phrases students learned was the pledge of allegiance, and some parents expressed concerns on social media.
“I’m happy that they have an opportunity to learn a second language, but I would have preferred that they learn something other than the pledge of allegiance to start off with,” mother Tiffany Miller said in an interview Friday.
While most parents liked the idea of learning Spanish, some were not happy with the idea of learning the pledge of allegiance.
“Learning basics or another song would have been a better option in my opinion,” Miller said. “Seem’s a bit unpatriotic to learn such an important American symbol in a foreign language.”
Yoder and his wife Becky were on a bike ride when the idea came up.
“We were talking about how I wanted to get the Spanish thing going and all of a sudden she started rambling something in Spanish,” Yoder said.
What Becky rambled off was the pledge of allegiance, which she had learned from her third grade teacher.
“She said that was her favorite teacher and she remembered it all these years,” Yoder said. “I thought that would be a good way to notch Spanish into kids’ brains. That’s one phrase or saying that everyone knows.”
Retired Marion High School foreign language teacher JoAnn Good also taught the pledge of allegiance in Spanish to her students, and said that knowing the pledge in both English and Spanish helps students to compare the two languages.
“The young mind is ready for language, and in brain research they’ve proven that some of those connections in the brain close or go away (with age),” Good said.
Both educators feel that the earlier students start learning a foreign language, the more likely they will retain the information.
“I’ve always felt that we’ve done American students a disservice by not teaching foreign languages at a young age,” Good said. “If they start at a younger age, they are more fluent.”