TOWNSEND — North Middlesex Regional School District Committee members have unanimously endorsed the “revenue neutral” addition of four language courses to the 11th and 12th grade high school curriculum, with three to carry students beyond first- and second-year classes and a fourth to provide historical significance.
One semester each of Mandarin Chinese III and IV, American Sign Language (ASL) III and “China: Revolution to Reform” all carry five college credits for college-bound students to help build a competitive transcript. Four-year colleges currently have a two-year minimum language requirement.
High School Principal Michael Flanagan told the committee his administration has examined the budget process and although there are “great plans,” his focus was placed on “what we can do right now.”
Headmaster Sarah Lewenczuk said the “drivers” for the course additions are “what students will need in college and for college selection.”
Committee member Frederick Wheeler agreed there is “a whole lot to like” as the district re-evaluates budget impacts and asked why the semesters are for juniors and seniors only.
Lewenczuk said the historical course, which will not require the addition of a teacher, is intended to bring in “a cultural piece” for the 37 students enrolled in first- and second-semester Chinese language classes, rounding out time spent to be equivalent to the time spent studying other languages.
“We want students to be sure to have their transcripts intact. Colleges are asking a minimum of two years,” she said.
It is, she said, a “rigorous course” that has the whole-hearted backing of department heads, who “actually want to add more. We hope to expand to study of literature.”
Committee member Kathy Low said her children are “really enjoying study of Japanese and Chinese” in their schools. Member Sue Fitzgerald said her daughter took Mandarin Chinese last year.
“There is a misconception that this is a difficult language,” Lewenczuk said. “It is more than digestible.”
The course descriptions provided to the committee are as follows:
* China: Revolution to Reform — A rigorous course where 11th and 12th graders study the chronological history of China from the last dynasty (the Qing) to present day. Independently and in collaborative groups, they will examine events, people, social and economic issues that influenced the history, politics and culture of China.
* American Sign Language III — The course builds on knowledge gained in I and II, expanding conversational skills, sign language vocabulary and grammar, learning everyday idioms and performance of narratives in sign language. More complex numbers and finger-spelling are developed. Continuation of “no voice in the classroom” helps students develop fluency and native-like signing. Deaf culture is studied through research, projects and discussions.
* Mandarin Chinese III — Students continue to develop listening, reading, speaking and writing skills. At course end, students can recognize 700 characters and be able to read simple, short stories and novels written for Chinese learners, as well as authentic signs. Students study Chinese culture via common idioms and Tang Dynasty poems.
* Mandarin Chinese IV — Students transition from advanced beginning stage to the intermediate level. At course end, they can recognize 1,000 characters (halfway to basic literacy) and will be comfortable with traditional and simplified character forms. Emphasis is placed on reinforcing grammar patterns and more complex sentence structures, to allow students to transition into a second-year college-level Mandarin Chinese course.