More course choices for sixth-graders at Winnetka’s Skokie School
03/23/2012 Winnetka Skokie School sixth grader Emma Reder plays the trumpet during band class at Skokie School in Winnetka on Friday, March 23, 2012. | michael jarecki ~ for Sun-Times
Updated: March 29, 2012 3:35PM
In response to parents’ concerns, School District 36 has modified its proposed changes to the sixth grade foreign language and band and orchestra programs.
The district will allow sixth-graders to choose any two of the following five courses: band, orchestra, Spanish, French or art, music and drama in a sequence.
“We actually are opening up more choices for children,” Assistant Superintendent Trisha Kocanda said.
Students in sixth grade this year study art for nine weeks, then Spanish for nine weeks, then drama for nine weeks and Spanish again for nine more weeks, so they have a daily Spanish class for about half the year. The Spanish is taught as part of a world language curriculum.
In another period, students either practice daily with the band or orchestra or take roughly 12 weeks of a general music course, followed by 12 weeks of community service and then 12 weeks of additional writing instruction.
Parents criticized the world language course’s focus on exposure to different cultures as opposed to teaching how to speak Spanish. District 36 administrators decided to redesign the language course to emphasize foreign language acquisition. In December, they explained their research showed a daily lesson in a foreign language was key to becoming proficient.
For next school year, district officials proposed increasing class time in Spanish to every other day in fifth grade and to everyday in sixth grade. Sixth-graders also would have their choice of studying French or Spanish. The seventh- and eighth-grade program would stay the same. Students can choose either daily French or Spanish instruction at Washburne School.
To make time for daily foreign language instruction in sixth grade, time spent on other subjects had to be cut back or eliminated.
The district proposed dropping the service and writing component and creating a new general music/art/drama sequence for students not in the band or orchestra. Sixth-graders in the band or orchestra would not have time for the music/art/drama sequence in order to have Spanish or French everyday.
The District 36 School Board heard from many parents who did not want their children to miss out on other fine arts to participate in the band or orchestra. So administrators went back to the drawing board last month and devised broader choices for students, who still will not be able to study all the elective subjects during the school day.
Children in band or orchestra may take the art/music/drama sequence; however, then there will not be time for Spanish or French classes. Parents may choose French and Spanish for their children’s two electives; in which case, the child would not participate in band, orchestra, or the fine arts sequence during the school day.
Students and their parents will have to make their choices in mid-April. Parents need to think their decisions through, because sixth-graders who take neither French, nor Spanish in sixth grade, will not be able to study either language in seventh or eighth grade.
“It’s a three-year commitment,” Kocanda said.
It’s possible that children who are able to speak French or Spanish could take a proficiency test to see if they are ready for the seventh-grade foreign language curriculum without having studied it at Skokie.
In addition, the district plans to enhance two after-school programs for families who want their children exposed to as much as possible (foreign language, art, drama and band or orchestra) in middle school.
Students could participate in the district’s art club before the school day starts or join the drama club after school. The exposure would not be as extensive as students get in the course that spends one third of the school year on art, another third on general music education and the final third on drama. But the drama club, which currently meets for 10 weeks, could be extended to 15 or 20 weeks, depending on student interest, Kocanda said.
She also suggested the Skokie art teacher create 10 three-day courses that would be taught during morning Art Club meetings before the school day.
The additional expense of these modifications remains to be determined.
“It really depends on what the students select,” Kocanda said. Some of the classes have room for more students, so the incremental cost would be minimal. The district also could turn to the Winnetka Public Schools Foundation for help in paying for some of the costs.
District spokeswoman Marcia Sutter said “the limited feedback” the district has received as of Tuesday on the program choices has been positive.
As part of the revision to its foreign language curriculum, the district has a consultant from the Center for Applied Linguistics visiting classrooms and evaluating language instruction. Those visits are underway, district officials said this week.