A working group on Monday night proposed to the Columbia School Board that the district establish a centralized World Languages Center in Columbia Public Schools as a way to keep higher level German and Japanese classes.
The district announced it would phase out German and Japanese in April as a result of low enrollment, a decision met with backlash from many students, parents and teachers. About 100 people were at the board meeting Monday night, many of whom were students who gave testimony on why foreign languages are important.
In the proposed solution, the higher level German and Japanese classes would be taught at a centralized location. Suzanne Yonke, facilitator for the World Languages Report given Monday night, said Douglass and Hickman high schools have expressed interest in being that central location.
The district would keep all four of its other languages — Spanish, French, Latin and Chinese — that are currently taught at the high school level. Level 1 of German and Japanese classes would be taught in all high schools.
“The current languages are well-suited to our area, demographics and student preferences,” Yonke said. “All of the languages have AP level exams, opportunities for dual credit enrollment, university degrees in our state and business connections in Missouri and home country, except Latin for obvious reasons.”
The biggest hurdle to the plan would be figuring out transportation to the centralized location and the bell schedule for whichever school had the World Languages Center.
Alex Fritschi, a sophomore at Rock Bridge High School, has been studying German since he was in sixth grade. His father’s family is from Switzerland, and he and his two brothers have dual citizenship. When Columbia Public Schools decided to phase out German and Japanese classes last year, Alex was the last in his family to take a German class.
“I had the privilege of going to Switzerland to meet my grandparents, and it was amazing both how much I was able to understand and how much I couldn’t,” Fritschi said. “I could get by and say basic things, but I still have a ton to learn. I’m so glad that the language program here has taught me so much, but it’s a little disappointing that my brother could not take German when he was going into ninth grade.”
Columbia Public Schools no longer offers German or Japanese programs for middle schools, and an introductory German class is only taught online. German classes 2 through 4 are taught in the same classroom with three different curricula, which students at Monday’s board meeting said they found difficult to follow.
“This world is becoming more and more global,” said Catherine Fajen, a sixth-grader at West Middle School. “You should be adding languages, not taking them away.”
Superintendent Peter Stiepleman said after the meeting that the language center would be able to join the needs of the community and the financial needs of the district.
“We’re going to move forward with it,” Stiepleman said. “We’re going to look at enrollment and then we are going to decide where we are going to have our central location for world languages.”
In addition to the report on World Languages, the board gave an update on the Long-range Facilities Planning Committee and changed its policy to allow the district to administer Naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of opioid overdoses.
The 11 members of the Robert E. Lee Elementary School building renaming committee were also announced. The members are Carissa Seek, Angela Speck, Alex Barker, Carmelita Wright, Jordan Wright, Doreen Grubicy, Chad Moseley, LaGarret King, Larry Joe Pauley, Jan Pritchard and Betty Wilson.