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First-, second-graders now taking Spanish

| Thursday, Oct. 7, 2004

First- and second-graders in Mt. Lebanon are taking to new foreign language classes like a pato to agua .

That's a duck to water.

The Mt. Lebanon School District began offering Spanish classes this year in the two grades, and teachers, parents and students say they are a hit.

"She loves it," Nancy Rosinger said of her daughter, Rachel, a second-grader at Hoover Elementary School. "She's so excited when it's Spanish day."

Ultimately, all the elementary school students will be able to take foreign language classes. Parents petitioned the board for the classes, which they called necessary to keep children competitive.

The board planned to include the program in this year's budget, dropped it to save money after a tax increase was announced and then added it back into the budget because of parents' pressure.

The school board ultimately approved a 2.6-mill tax increase, with 0.7 mills for new programs, including the foreign language program.

The owner of a home assessed at $150,000 is paying an additional $390 in property taxes to the district this year because of the 2.6-mill increase.

Two teachers have been hired, said Nancy Campbell, language supervisor for the district, and ultimately, there will be seven teachers for the program.

Carola Benincasa was one of the parents who lobbied for elementary foreign language classes. Benincasa, a former international saleswoman and chairwoman of the Foreign Language Club at Lincoln Elementary School, said that most of the districts around Mt. Lebanon already have elementary foreign language classes.

Previously, every school in the district had a foreign language club that would meet at lunch, but it didn't afford enough time for students to retain what they learned, Rosinger said.

Patty Lowe, who teaches at Jefferson elementary and middle schools, said the younger the student, the easier it is to pick up a foreign language. Benefits of a foreign language include awareness of other cultures and improvements in other fields -- such as math, English and problem-solving, Lowe said.

"Simply put, it's good for children," Lowe said at a presentation for parents last week.

Students have 50 minutes of Spanish instruction a week, Campbell said. In third, fourth and fifth grades, when those grades are added, students will have 75 minutes a week. In all grades, the time is split into 25-minute lessons.

Ultimately, when the elementary curriculum is added in its entirety, the middle school and high school curricula will have to be adjusted, as well, Campbell said.

"It's forcing everybody to learn," Superintendent Marge Sable said.

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