ALPENA – Fewer students in northeastern Michigan are taking higher-level foreign language classes, school leaders said.
More than 490 high school students in northeastern Michigan are enrolled in a foreign language program, but fewer are attending more advanced classes because more options for other classes are available, officials said.
The first classes are introductory, while, “At these higher levels, it is to read and speak that they are really working,” Said the assistant director of Alpena High School, Romeo Bourdage.
It is not exclusive to northeastern Michigan. A 2016 college and university census by the Modern Language Institute of America showed that total enrollments in foreign languages decreased by 9.2% compared to 2013.
Even so, many still see the need to learn foreign languages.
Alpena Public Schools curator Mike Barnett, a former professor of political science at Alpena High School, recently told the council that he would like to see the district’s program become more robust.
Barnett said that many students end up traveling around the world now, and “You need to know some foreign languages - at least one,” he said. “With some of these great job opportunities, you never know where they are going to send you.”
APS continues to offer students several options for learning foreign languages.
Bourdage said that students can learn French, German or Spanish and that first or second year classes are usually full.
But fewer students are in the third or fourth year.
“We are running the same programs – the three solid foreign languages - but we are running fewer sections, because fewer students are applying,” he said.
Bourdage said that this is mainly because there are fewer students enrolled in high school than in previous years and because students have more options for classes at their disposal.
He said the college has already enrolled 2,200 students, but state data show that there are now less than 1,200.
The Michigan Department of Education requires students to do two years of foreign language in order to graduate, but students can drop out of the second year if they take a Technical and Professional Education course or a visual, performing or applied arts course, such as art. or theater.
Bourdage said the high school also recently added more double classes and classes at Early College.
Because of the many graduation requirements and because of the elective classes that students want to take, Bourdage said, students often begin to learn a foreign language at Thunder Bay Junior High School.
Other school districts in northeastern Michigan don’t have as many foreign language options, but are still able to meet the state’s graduation requirements.
Some schools even have district teachers to teach foreign languages, while other schools offer these classes online or through two application opportunities.
Community schools in Atlanta have a German teacher and schools in the Rogers area have a Spanish teacher and an online option to learn Spanish.
Alcona Community Schools generally offer a face-to-face foreign language course, but Superintendent Dan O’Connor said the course is being offered almost this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. He said students can also choose from 12 other foreign language options taught online through a third-party provider.
Posen Consolidated Schools has started offering French classes remotely to students in partnership with Alpena Community College, through which students also receive university credit.
Hillman Community Schools does not have a worldwide language teacher, according to Superintendent Carl Seiter, but uses an online Spanish class through a third party.
“For the second year of Spanish, we try to enroll students in a dual enrollment course through ACC or Kirtland (Community College),” he said in an email to The News.
At Alpena High, Bourdage said students generally decide to continue a foreign language program for one of two reasons: either the student loves the program or is trying to enter a college that requires the student to have four years of foreign language.
“The foreign language department feels that it is imperative to administer these classes, even if there are only 15 children enrolled”, he said.
This means that Bourdage and other high school counselors need to be more creative when scheduling higher-level foreign language classes. Bourdage said they try not to put students alone in a classroom, but try to organize them into groups of two or more.
Crystal Nelson can be contacted at 989-358-5687 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Check out Monday’s edition of The News to take a look at the new exclusive French classes from Posen Consolidated Schools.