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Broadening Horizons: Eastchester Explores Elementary Language Instruction

[Excerpts from this story appear in the 2023-2024 Budget Newsletter]

Children who learn a second language at a young age tend to be better at planning, focusing, critical thinking and achieving goals. For these reasons, and more, Eastchester’s proposed 2023-2024 school district budget calls for introducing a foreign language program in the elementary schools.

 The Foreign Language in Elementary School (FLES) program could dramatically reshape the way language is taught in Eastchester by providing language instruction to students beginning in kindergarten.

The proposal calls for a gradual three-year rollout of the FLES program, beginning with the curriculum being introduced to K-1 students next fall, students in grades 2-3 in the fall of 2024, and those in grades 4-5 in 2025.  

Dr. Lori de Ramirez, an educator who serves on the Executive Committee of the World Language Content Advisory Panel, has been advising Eastchester administrators on the most effective ways to implement FLES instruction. She said that although the idea of starting foreign language education at the elementary level is not a new concept, it has gained more traction recently.

“It has been done in the US and around the world for many years,” said de Ramirez. “But there has been more interest in it in the last 15 or 20 years as parents start to realize that the earlier children get started in world language, the better the outcome will be for them for multiple reasons.” 

Focusing on three main areas—language, culture and content—FLES instruction is designed to help students achieve language proficiency while also expanding their worldviews from an early age. 

“On the surface, of course we want students to be able to communicate in the target language, but they also need to be able to understand the culture of the native speakers of the language they’re going to be learning,” she said. “That’s really crucial for developing global citizens, and it’s a way for students to learn, through the language, what other perspectives look like.”

While working as the World Language Chair at the K-12 Dalton School, de Ramirez has seen first-hand the effect FLES can have on students. Starting the program nine years ago, she noted that the students who received language instruction as kindergarteners now have a stronger grasp on communication than those who began later. 

“The children who went through that elementary program are absolutely fearless,” she said. “They spill language out, they’re eager to communicate and they’re able to use this skillset they’ve developed to get their meaning across.”

That skillset isn’t limited to language, she added, but helps students across all subjects.

“Part of the ability of an elementary language program is that we have the ability to connect to different content areas,” she said. “We find that students are able to use the skills that they are learning through language and translate those into other classes, including science and math.”