French teacher Amy Clashman positions herself at the head of the classroom, reading aloud from the current book that the Francophone Identities class is reading, A papillion dans le cité. French classes consist largely of group discussions and reading, all while sitting on comfortable couches to increase the conversational tone of the class.
This is just one example of The Gregory’s School approach to teaching languages, which makes it stand out from surrounding schools like Catalina Foothills High School. In fact, all of the language course offerings, including Spanish, Latin, and Italian, enrich the school community.
“Most schools our size (and, in fact, most large schools) offer only one or two languages beyond English. TGS is exceptional in offering three,” said Clashman, “The ISAS accreditation committee mentioned repeatedly that an impressively high number of our students took two, even three languages. Not all schools offer the flexibility to do so.”
Studying languages has a practical side. History and Latin teacher Jim Carlson said that Latin is “the basis for all Romance languages.” He went on to say, “If you’re studying French, or studying Spanish and you do those in concert with Latin vocabulary and grammar, all of those things are a lot easier. And you can learn a lot of other languages more easily.”
In 2009, the Latin program was going to be cancelled because of budget cuts. At the time, the headmaster Bill Creeden cited the decrease in incoming students as the main factor in laying off English teacher Cheryl Weller and cutting the Latin program. However, in the May 2009 Issue of The Gregorian Chant, Creeden said, “Parents would like to see languages like German, Portuguese, and Mandarin in the future.”
However, these languages have yet to materialize on campus. Offering more languages would benefit the school in terms of creating global citizens and more cultural awareness on campus. In a poll, 67% of students said they would like more languages offered on campus.
“I would love for us to offer Arabic and Mandarin. I think those are the two that I would certainly start with. Of course, personally, I’d love to offer a Portuguese course and Portuguese program,” said Spanish teacher Dr. Matt Teller.
Portuguese was one of the courses listed on a survey conducted last year to gauge students interest in what courses they would like to take. However, Portuguese did not make it to the course offerings for the 2014-2015 school year. “I think just that in talking to some of the students there seemed to be a lot of interest, and maybe it was just their priorities were elsewhere,” said Teller.
Teller continued, “I think in the ideal world we’d be able to offer whatever language anyone wants to take. So it would certainly extend beyond the ones we’re offering now. I think that’s what Dr. Sherrill was trying to create with the encore period; an opportunity for students to take additional languages.”
Currently, Señora Mata , wife of math teacher Mr. Alex Mata teaches Italian during the encore period on Day 2.
However, introducing new languages could pose logistical issues,. According to Clashman, “There are logistical issues with staffing, and when you introduce one language then you need to have multiple years of it. We want to make sure that the languages keep thriving like they are. If you introduce a lot of languages, then there would be small classes and it would be hard for all of them to be staffed.”
Carlson said, “We’ve offered in the past Russian, and we had a Mandarin program for awhile. I think a lot of it is that it’s very difficult to have a lot of different languages and it’s hard. I will give Dr. Sherrill a lot of kudos because I think she’s offering a lot of classes on a semester-long basis, so there’s more choice now I think for everybody.”
Clashman concluded, “Students who become proficient in one or more languages at a young age have paved the way to taking more language in the future, including languages we consider difficult, such as Arabic or Mandarin.”
More languages on campus would indeed benefit the TGS community, but logistical issues need to be worked out first in order to do so.
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