Spanish for all in Foothills schools
The Arizona Daily Star
Jan. 28, 2006

By Jeff Commings

Tucson, Arizona | Published:

Catalina Foothills School District officials are hoping to make Spanish classes mandatory for students as young as 5 years old, a move that would make it the only public district in Pima County to require such classes in all grade levels.Officials say the decision would put the district ahead at a time when people need to become more multicultural. And they point to studies that show children as young as 4 have successfully begun speaking second, and even third, languages.

 "We're looking at ways to have the kids be more globally aware," said Assistant Superintendent Mary Jo Conery, head of a team of educators working on 21st-century curriculum. "We're in a century now where our national and international borders have become somewhat seamless, and there's a need for our students to work toward the goal of being bilingual and even maybe multilingual."

The new curriculum, if approved by the governing board this spring, would require Spanish be taught to all elementary school students for at least 30 minutes every day starting this fall. The classes would require shifting the school day's start time up 25 minutes, to 8:20, and ending 5 minutes later, at 3:10.
The district previously had a sporadic foreign-language curriculum in fourth- and fifth-grade classes, but it was canceled in 2000 after officials noticed that many students were moving to middle-school Spanish classes with about the same fluency as students who had never taken a Spanish class. To fix that problem, the district wanted to spread the program to all elementary grades, but no funding was available.
The cost of the new program will be about $439,000, Conery said, which includes creating the curriculum and training eight new teachers. The money would come from district funds and its private foundation.
Kindergartners will be able to join the program soon, she said, when the district creates all-day kindergarten. Students in sixth grade and up already have foreign-language courses.
Adding Spanish classes could put Catalina Foothills at the forefront of foreign-language instruction in Pima County. No other public school district has such a mandate, and since there are no state guidelines that require districts to teach foreign languages at any grade level, many districts allow students to choose Spanish, French, German or another language as an elective course.
Catalina Foothills and Flowing Wells are the only districts to require foreign-language study in high school Catalina Foothills for two years, Flowing Wells for one. Nearly every private high school in Tucson has a foreign-language requirement in its curriculum.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne said Catalina Foothills' move is "a fabulous idea," and added that he's been an advocate of early-age Spanish instruction since he asked Paradise Valley voters to fund such a curriculum while he was a member of that district's governing board in 1981.
The voters turned it down, but the idea stayed with him, Horne said. However, there has never been discussion of making all of Arizona's English-speaking students learn Spanish, he said.
"I praise them enthusiastically," Horne said of Catalina Foothills district officials.
Other educators also support the idea. Flowing Wells Assistant Superintendent David Baker said "the opportunity for young kids to learn Spanish would be a benefit," although he said his district has no plans to require foreign-language classes earlier than high school.
Dawn Davis, a mother of four Catalina Foothills students one at Catalina Foothills High School and three at Sunrise Drive Elementary said she'd love to hear her kids speaking Spanish at a young age.
"I'd love to practice (Spanish) with my kids," said Davis, who is bilingual. "I would like to talk to them more (in Spanish). I say a lot of endearing things to my daughter in Spanish, and that's about it."
She said her son Tyler, a freshman, is doing well in Spanish class now, but would have benefited from learning it earlier than middle school.
Catalina Foothills officials will visit each elementary school this spring to let parents know about the curriculum and to gauge public opinion. There is no set date for governing board approval, but Conery expects it to happen before the end of the school year in order to give administrators time to prepare for a fall rollout.
● Contact reporter Jeff Commings at 573-4191 or at