Some seventh graders in the Kingston City School District have spent the first few months of the 2022-23 school year studying Spanish with an in-class online course, but some parents have said the program isn’t working.
Bryan Lundy is the father of a seventh grader at J. Watson Bailey Middle School. He came before the Board of Education during its meeting on Wednesday, December 14 to share his concerns over his daughter, who ordinarily receives excellent grades, failing the pass-fail Spanish course. He said his daughter was upset that she might not make the honor roll this semester.
“My daughter isn’t…somebody who doesn’t learn,” Lundy said. “Junior National Honor Society, Bailey Bulldog Award last year. Every other grade that she has had — 95 or higher, yet she got a failure in a class where there was no teacher. How are we getting this education to the students who are desperately in need of this?”
Lundy said his daughter taught herself French using Duolingo, a popular language learning app. “She wants to learn, but it’s impossible for her,” he said. “Currently there’s no live teacher in the classroom. There’s an aide in the classroom that in my daughter’s case does not speak any Spanish whatsoever. How is a 12-year-old supposed to learn a foreign language if there’s no direct correlation to anybody who actually knows the language in the room helping them teach?”
Lundy said he’d spoken to other parents whose children are having similar issues with the course.
“As a parent, I’m concerned that she’s not going to get what she needs because clearly what’s happening in the classroom isn’t correlating to an education,” he said. “As a parent, I’m perfectly fine paying for Duolingo, paying for (computer-assisted language learning software) Rosetta Stone. I’d rather see my daughter utilize the time as an independent study where we pay for those programs for her to learn on her own, because she will learn. But currently, she’s not the only one who’s not learning anything.”
Lundy said his daughter was upset by how poorly the Spanish course was going, particularly as she likes to do well in school. “Tears from her eyes multiple occasions as a result of this,” he said. “She’s frustrated.”
Traditionally, School Board trustees and school officials don’t respond to comments made during public sessions, but Kingston City Schools Superintendent Paul Padalino felt compelled to assure Lundy and other parents that they are aware of the issue and are weighing their options. He added that a pass-fail result in that course would not factor into a student’s average.
“No students are being graded in a way that will affect their overall average or keep them off any kind of honor roll because of that Spanish class…We went to a pass-fail option in that course on purpose so that wouldn’t happen.”
Padalino said that the district offered the online course when they were unable to find a Spanish teacher to hire. He added that there were other language areas where they experienced similar staffing issues.
“We tried to do American sign language, we have no American sign language teacher,” he said. “We tried French, we tried German. We couldn’t get teachers. So we tried something that was relatively experimental.”
Padalino said the district tried the online program in the hopes of offering something instead of nothing.
“The majority of school districts don’t even offer foreign language in seventh grade, not when it isn’t mandated,” Padalino said. “I have multiple colleagues, both north and south who are using online products to teach Spanish. But many other districts said they eliminated Spanish where it wasn’t mandated. So we tried not to do that.”
The district currently has an opening for a Spanish teacher on its website, but Padalino was skeptical that it might be filled anytime soon.
“If you find some or you know, any, send them my way,” he said. “But we cannot find Spanish teachers.”
Board Vice-President Herb Lamb asked if any retired teacher had been contacted to see if they’d be willing to come back and teach a section or two, but Padalino said they’d been down that avenue and come up empty handed.
“We’ve reached out to everyone and everyone said no,” he said. “We have really done everything we could to try to recruit Spanish teachers at this point.”
Padalino said he was part of a group of superintendents statewide who recently met with the state’s Education Commissioner Betty Rosa to ask if they might change the certification process to enable more candidates to come forward and was told it was being considered.
“The state moves slowly, but that doesn’t really help us in this moment,” he said.
As for what’s currently being offered, seventh grade in-class online Spanish may look different next semester.
“We’re 15 weeks in, we’re reevaluating and reassessing,” Padalino said. “But it’s not working out quite as well as we’d like it to, and we’ll make changes as we see necessary.”