Budget cuts threaten early language studies

Kindergarten cafe boosts language learning
By Kim Lincoln | Apr 17, 2014
St. George School kindergartener Willow Miller takes the order of World Languages teacher Kathreen Harrison in the classroom-turned-cafe April 16.

St. George — "Bonjour," was the greeting from two 5-year-old hostesses wearing bow ties as they led guests to their tables.

Christine Miller's kindergarten class at St. George School was transformed April 16 into a pâtisserie, or French bakery. Parents were led to set tables by serveurs and serveuses (waiters and waitresses) armed with tablets and pencils to jot down orders. The menus, written completely en français, were created by the students.

The choices: gâteau au chocolat or gâteau au vanille — chocolate or vanilla cake. To drink, citron or thé — lemonade or iced tea.

"It's an opportunity for them to use the language in an authentic way," said World Languages teacher Kathreen Harrison.

At the same time the students are learning a new language, Regional School Unit 13 officials are weighing the options of cutting the kindergarten to fifth-grade World Languages program.

Through a Georges River Education Foundation Grant, the students have been participating in a year-long unit called Kindergarten Cooks, Miller said. The students have visited Beth's Farm Market in Warren, made cheese at State of Maine Cheese Co. in Rockport, cooked with seafood at Herring Gut Learning Center in Port Clyde, made chicken soup, minestrone and bread with Green Bean Catering and worked with Nancy Wood to learn about nutrition.

And yes, all the lessons were in French.

After eating, students handed guests a receipt and they paid using a Euro.

"We decided to work with the French teacher to expand to other cultures," Miller said.

Harrison said the younger a student is when he or she begins to learn the language the better. Younger students have the ability to reproduce native pronunciation and sounds more easily and that cognitive window closes around 10 years old, Harrison said.

Not to say a person cannot learn a language after that, but reaching that native pronunciation is almost impossible and instead, Harrison said, language learning becomes more of a step-by-step process.

The kindergarteners have also been learning about French and Canadian stores. In art class, they used photos of real stores and replicated them in paintings. The illustrations are now being made into a book called, "Bon Appétit." The book, made using an online program called Blurb, will be published in hardcover and include student's artwork and also a photograph of each student and a description, in French, of what they like to do.

A series of cuts were proposed during a RSU 13 budget workshop April 16. Among them was cutting the kindergarten to fifth-grade World Language program.

The district would begin World Language education in sixth grade, beginning in 2014-2015. The proposal would eliminate two positions for a savings of $82,196.

Currently the time allotted for World Language at the elementary level is minimal, according to information from the district. By concentrating language in the upper grades with the remaining five teachers, the district said it could provide a more robust program.

Courier Publications Copy Editor Kim Lincoln can be reached at 594-4401 or by email at klincoln@villagesoup.com.

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