Saratoga High unable to sustain numerous language courses

November 20, 2017 — by Anna Novoselov

On one side of the classroom, 10 AP French students work quietly while teacher Elaine Haggerty explains a concept to the 19 French 3 students.

After assigning her French 3 students a task, Haggerty reverses her attention to the other side of the class and starts a lesson for her AP French students.  

Because of the low enrollment in both advanced French classes, French 3 and AP French have been combined in the past years into one class as a way of keeping the program alive.

“It’s not ideal,” Haggerty said. “Logistically, it means that the students get half as much instruction.”

Such a compromise shows the struggles the school’s world language department has in trying to maintain multiple offerings.

In the meantime, the dominant languages on campus are Spanish and Mandarin Chinese. Currently, 535 students are enrolled in Spanish, 174 in Mandarin Chinese and 111 in French, according to Registrar Robert Wise.

The world language department considers teacher availability, student interest and a language’s global impact when choosing which language classes to offer, said both Brian Safine and the head of the department, Spanish teacher Arnaldo Rodriguex.

The school tries to offer languages that are in demand in the community and reflect the demographics of the world, Rodriguex said.

Statistically, approximately 400 million people consider Spanish their native language globally, including 40 million in the U.S. and 15 million in California. Rodriguex speculates that due to this prominence and the language’s parallels with English, Spanish currently has the highest rate of enrollment among students.

In a Facebook survey of 110 students, only 25 percent of student respondents said they were completely satisfied with the school’s current language offerings: 19 percent of respondents expressed interest in German, 18 percent in an Indian dialect and 15 percent in Japanese.

Japanese, which was cut after the 2011-12 school year, was once taught on campus by current PE teacher Yuko Aoki. Long before Japanese, German was offered.

Sophomore Ranna Zahabi said that she is interested in taking German — she has family living in Germany and her mom grew up in the country.

“I think it would be a really cool way to learn about the people in my family and their culture and lifestyle,” Zahabi said.

Although Zahabi enjoys taking Spanish, she wishes that the school had more language options. “If I had two electives, I would definitely take both German and Spanish,” she said.

Zahabi has visited her family in Germany twice, and she said that she felt like she was missing out because of her lack of knowledge of the language.

According to Safine, adding a new language course like German would be extremely difficult. There would need to be a qualified teacher and an outpouring of student interest. Additionally, the program would have to include numerous levels so that students can take it through all four years in high school.

“Choices in language courses are good because interests vary from student to student,” Rodriguex said. “But we want to have a program we can fully support rather than trying to pull from everywhere to try to maintain something.”

For those seeking more options in language classes, students do have the option of enrolling in a foreign language at West Valley College, Safine said. Students have taken Farsi, ASL, Korean, as well as others, at the community college.

“We encourage students to pursue their passions,” Safine said. “There are different options for students if there’s not a program at our school. I would never want a student to feel limited.”


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