When it comes to lessons in other tongues, Kevin Fitzgerald, the superintendent of the Caesar Rodney school district in northeastern Delaware, is never at a loss for words.
He speaks with pride about the fact that his district’s high school, Caesar Rodney High School, offers six foreign languages: French, Spanish, German, Latin, and, more recently, Arabic and Mandarin.
This school year, the district introduced a more novel and potentially more effective foreign-language initiative to talk up: a new Chinese-immersion program for 101 kindergartners, which the district plans to offer those children and successive kindergartners through 8th grade.
The immersion program, which provides instruction in math, science, and literacy in Chinese for half a day and in English for the remainder, is one of three such programs funded though Gov. Jack Markell’s recently created World Language Expansion Initiative. The initiative operates with $1.9 million annually from Delaware’s state budget.
At a time when school districts face constant budgetary constraints while also being charged with preparing students for jobs in a more global economy, proponents of foreign-language instruction say Delaware’s new immersion program represents an uncommon but welcome step toward introducing foreign language at an age that researchers say is optimal for students to become multilingual.
“We’d like to think it will become more common,” said William P. Rivers, the executive director of the Joint National Committee for Languages-National Council for Language and International Studies, a Washington-based nonprofit that advocates for languages and international education. (Read more.)