Begin by gathering information to build a rationale and convincing argument for starting a program. This includes:
- List of benefits of learning languages at an early age including cognitive, academic, and social.
- Data regarding the growth of elementary programs at the elementary level including nearby schools and school districts that offer language at the elementary level.
- Wording from the school district or school’s own mission and/or vision statements that refer to preparing students for the 21st century. Almost all schools have some indication in these statements that they are preparing students for the future and language advocates can capitalize on these statements by pointing to the contribution that language programs make to this endeavor.
- List of the other special programs supported by the school or school district. High quality language programs use the regular school curriculum as the content for the language instruction. If the school currently has a specialized program, for example, in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) field, an argument can be made for teaching these subjects in the foreign/target language and essentially accomplishing two things in one task.
Parents and community members advocating for implementation of a language program need to mobilize support both within and beyond the school itself. The following groups or individuals can become important advocates for the effort:
- PTA/PTO officers or board members at the school
- School Principal or Assistant Principal
- School district personnel responsible for curriculum and instruction or teaching and learning
- School Board or Board of Trustees members
- Other influencers of school district decision-making
Get a Meeting
Now armed with information and a group of supporters, request a meeting with those in the school district who can make this decision. It is important to contact the school principal first and find out the best way to proceed.
Make a Visit
It is highly recommended that you organize a visit to an elementary language program in your area, if available. Sometimes School Board members and school district personnel can be convinced once they see a current program in action. It’s challenging for adults who have not experienced the way young children acclimate to learning a language to understand exactly how it works until they see it. It can also be convincing if these decision-makers see students in an adjacent or nearby school district benefiting from the opportunity to learn a second language.
Once the decision has been made to implement a program, the parent/community group should work cooperatively with the school system professionals on the implementation.
Choose the Language
This aspect of the program is very important. Parents and community members who advocate for a language program are more successful if they are willing to leave the choice of the language up to the school. It is important that the school community embrace the language selected and that the resources are available in terms of staffing the program and providing instructional resources. And since the research shows that once children have learned a second language, the third and fourth are acquired more easily, the choice of a specific language should not be a point of contention. It is highly recommended that the school conduct a survey of parents and/or community members to determine the language interest of the community served by the school.
Select the Program Model
School system staff will undoubtedly develop the program model that works best for the respective school environment and budget. There are intensive programs called dual language immersion programs and less intensive programs called Foreign Language in the Elementary School (FLES) programs. A well-articulated language program with identified language outcomes benefits students are the key criteria for program success, regardless of the specific model chosen. Parents and community members need to pay attention to the qualities of the program (articulated sequence, identified program outcomes) rather than a specific program model.
Start Planning Early for the Transition to Middle and High School
A critical aspect of any elementary language program is planning for the smooth transition as students advance to middle school and then high school. Since these students will be functioning at a proficiency level higher than former students, it is important that they have a planned program that will allow them to continue to build their language proficiency as they move up through the grades. When an elementary school anticipates implementing a language program, the middle and high schools into which the students will feed should be involved in the planning from the beginning.
Support the Program
Parents and community members play a significant role in successful program implementation by supporting the program by:
- Holding fundraisers to build program resources.
- Encouraging cultural opportunities within the community for all the students.
- Speaking positively about the program out in the community.
- Taking any concerns about the program directly to the school principal or appropriate district personnel.
For more information:
Curtain, Helena & Dahlberg, Carol Ann. Languages and Children Making the Match: New Languages for Young Learners, Grades K-8. Pearson.