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Saturday, June 15, 2024

Knowlton Rules the Chessboard and Considers World Language Instruction

A packed house greeted the Knowlton Township Elementary School board of education meeting on May 20. There were awards to distribute and questions to ponder about the state of world language instruction.

On May 17, the middle school band put in a festival performance that superintendent Jeannine DeFalco called “excellent.” She extended her congratulations to the applause of the gathered crowd.

Knowlton’s chess team received their laurel next for a stellar performance at the county chess tournament. The team placed third in the sixth through eighth grade category, playing well against older students. In the kindergarten through sixth category, Knowlton took first place. The team received its rightful share of admiration and applause.

The staff at Knowlton also wanted to reward other behavior, too, like cooperation, friendliness and diligence. To honor those qualities, vice principal Dana Carroll recognized four Knowlton Knights at the meeting, twice the usual number: kindergartener Coraline, first-grader Amelia, fourth-grader Gavin and sixth-grader Grace.

With awards and applause given, the board granted a two-minute recess to allow families with young ones to head home. After reconvening, the meeting proceeded quietly and efficiently, moving through a number of items: the status of the Eagle Scout pollinator garden, planning for the Diane Davalos Scholarship Glow Dance on May 31 and the recent resignation of the school nurse.

An innocuous item on the agenda sparked an unexpected amount of discussion: the hiring of a new world language coordinator. During the conversation, board members learned that the incoming coordinator will provide pre-recorded lessons via Google Classroom instead of teaching classes in person.

Several board members expressed skepticism about the virtual learning format. Vice president Matthew Baley questioned the hourly rate of a teacher who provides individualized feedback on assessments but no live instruction.

Board member Rhonda Moritz made especially pointed criticisms.

“I question the effectiveness of it if she’s only a Google Classroom teacher,” Moritz said. “I mean, we went through that with Covid, and we know how ineffective that was for a lot of students.”

DeFalco pointed out that Knowlton is too small to justify a full-time world language teacher. She also explained that many other elementary schools have even less instructor involvement, relying on self-guided programs like Rosetta Stone for world language instruction.

As Moritz pointed out, these programs fail to provide live instruction.

“I don’t know what the students get out of it,” she remarked.

“They get exposure and immersion,” DeFalco explained, “which is what’s required at this level.”

According to the New Jersey Department of Education’s Learning Standards, “All students have regular, sequential instruction in one or more world languages beginning in kindergarten and continuing at least through the freshman year of high school.”

This state requirement is unusual in the United States. The 2017 National K-12 Foreign Language Enrollment Survey Report, the most recent of its kind, reported that only 20% of elementary school students study a world language or American Sign Language. With 80% of American kindergarten through eighth grade students receiving no world language education at all, it’s possible that fewer materials and instructors exist for live elementary school instruction. Affordable ones, especially.

After discussion ended, the board voted on the hiring of the virtual world language coordinator. Moritz was the only member to vote no.

The board also approved the renewal of its food service agreement, its teacher evaluation model and the school calendar for next year.

The next board of education meeting will take place on June 17.

Chip O'Chang
Chip O'Chang, Contributing Writer
Contributing Writer

Chip O'Chang is an educator, fiction writer, and lifelong resident of New Jersey. He has also written for My Life Publications and NJ Indy. He lives in the NJ Skylands with his partner, two cats, and and a bearded dragon.