AMHERST — Amherst students will get the chance to expand their vocabulary this fall with the launch of Spanish instruction for the district’s littlest pupils.
While a longtime mainstay for upper classes, district officials announced this week Spanish will be offered at Powers Elementary School for the 2019-20 school year.
The school houses kindergarten through third grade.
It was a natural extension of the district’s declining enrollment, said Mike Molnar, assistant superintendent.
The district has lost about 700 students in the past six to eight years, Molnar estimated, and it has adjusted staffing levels accordingly through retirement or attrition. When officials realized the requests at the upper grades left room in its Spanish language department, they acted on an idea that had long been on the wish list: offering foreign language instruction at earlier grades.
“We’ve always wanted to do it and have talked about it many times. Research indicates that learning another language is best suited for younger ages, and we’ve looked at Spanish and Chinese but just never made it happen. Other things — like adding all-day kindergarten — were priority,” Molnar said.
Molnar said this was the perfect opportunity for the district to offer more programs for students without adding staff. One teacher will move between buildings to provide instruction, he said.
Spanish and French already are offered at the junior high and high school, and Spanish will be offered at Nord Middle School in the 2020-21 school year, so kids who pick it up this fall will be able to transition seamlessly to taking Spanish if they move up.
Students at Amherst Junior High also will be offered an “introduction to world cultures” class this fall.
“It will give them an introduction to culture and languages like Spanish, French and others to pique the curiosity of our students and allow them to hone in on their interests,” he said.
In the meantime, the district has been in contact with other districts in the area that offer foreign languages at primary grades, such as Oberlin and Westlake, to study and implement their best practices.
“Preparing students for the future is of utmost importance, and that includes exposing them to different languages and cultures at a young age,” Superintendent Steve Sayers said in a statement announcing the change.