Notes from the Board Table: When students visit education board, c’est bien, and es bueno

I have to say, one of the best parts about being on the Board of Education is when students come to our meetings to demonstrate what’s been going on in the classroom. So I was thrilled when a group of Cider Mill third graders came to a board meeting last month to share their newly-acquired French and Spanish language skills.
You may recall that beginning this year, we re-introduced world language to the third grade curriculum. Language instruction had been part of third grade instruction but was eliminated a few years ago due to budget cuts. It has long been the goal of the board to reinstate the instruction, and parents have made clear their support. So we were delighted when Principal Jen Mitchell presented a plan to move ahead without incurring additional costs.
It all came together on a recent Thursday night when about a dozen students accompanied by their teachers, Monsieur Paul Kueffner and Senora Rosemary Dellinger, demonstrated their skills. I think I can speak for the board in saying how impressed we were by how much the students had learned, by their obvious passion for learning, and by the tremendous pride their parents and teachers had in watching their performance.
Both Monsieur Kueffner and Senora Dellinger demonstrated the innovative approaches they use in instructing the students. From Sra. Dellinger’s guitar-led songs and games to Mssr. Kueffner’s flashcards and French rendition of “Simon Says,” it was easy to see that learning a new language is nothing but fun for these students. Hats off to our entire Cider Mill World Language Department and Principal Mitchell for making it possible to once again include world language instruction in our third grade curriculum.
Enhancements to the language curriculum can be found in our other schools as well. This year at Middlebrook for example, French students are benefiting from a new textbook series and supporting online materials. The “Bien dit!” textbook series was introduced following an exhaustive review by Middlebrook faculty and administrators.
The new textbook offers proper language instruction, and is aligned with current cultural and demographic trends within French speaking regions. Our previous textbook had become so outdated, that it still referenced the franc as France’s official currency, with no mention of the euro. And some of the fashion choices and hairstyles featured throughout the textbooks regularly elicited chuckles from our students.
The textbook instruction is complemented by online access to materials that further explain key concepts. Students can practice pronunciation, reading and grammar, and complete homework assignments. Our classroom teachers are able to track students’ online progress, and can determine if a student needs extra attention with a specific concept. While online access is now available to support much of the learning that takes places across each of our schools, it is especially helpful in the study of world language, where vocabulary and grammar drills are essential.
At the high school, we have seen a significant upgrade to our Spanish language instruction in recent years. In 2013, a Spanish IV/V honors course was added as a way to provide rigorous instruction to the growing number of students who were rapidly advancing through our language curriculum.
To continue that goal, this year students have the option to take the AP Spanish Literature and Culture course. The course was approved by the board as a way to continue the educational path for our most proficient Spanish speakers, who had successfully mastered our most advanced course offerings by 11th grade.
Wilton High School is one of only two schools in our district reference group that offers the AP Spanish Literature & Culture course, with Staples being the other. And for those of you who are wondering, similar AP courses are not available for French or other languages.
These examples barely scratch the surface of the extent to which world language has been embraced in the Wilton Schools. From celebrations of the holidays and traditions embraced by the countries that speak the languages our students are learning, to annual showcases of students’ accomplishments, to efforts to build relationships with students in other countries, world language education is on display every day in our schools.
As we all know, the earlier we introduce a student to a new language, the easier it will be for that student to understand and internalize its core concepts. We are so pleased that third grade instruction has returned to Cider Mill, and look forward to building on that program going forward.

Bruce Likly is chairman of the Wilton Board of Education.