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Opinion: Will We Have Full STEAM Ahead?

globeThe Scarsdale School Administration announced during its January 13th Board of Education meeting that it is presently working on developing the K-12 STEAM curriculum. Given the incredible demand for technical, science, and math skills globally, the administration's work is commendable.

In order to be able to say 'Full STEAM Ahead,' it is very important to remember that foreign languages are an extremely useful, but neglected, Art, that is critical to the successful implementation of a STEAM program. Reams of academic research internationally and in the US document that early foreign language acquisition, substantially helps children with cognitive development, and importantly, to improve math skills and standardized test scores. 

Additionally, scientists have confirmed the health benefits of foreign language acquisition. For example, the Alzheimer's Society in the UK and the University of Kentucky College of Medicine in Lexington have produced a number of studies demonstrating how foreign language acquisition can help slow down the onset of dementia and Alzheimer's. Neuroscientists have also found benefits to the heart and emotional well-being to studying foreign languages.

Unfortunately, the US is in a foreign language crisis; less than 20% of Americans speak a foreign language. According to Department of Defense and Department of Education analyses, we are not producing a sufficient amount of people who can speak languages critical to US national security. Moreover, there is significant demand in the US for foreign language speakers in multiple sectors of the public and private economy.

Scarsdale schools could really differentiate themselves by enabling our students to be proficient, if not fluent, in at least one foreign language when they graduate. Speaking a foreign language can also help Scarsdale students be more unique when they apply to undergraduate and graduate schools. Anecdotally, at different times for two decades, I have volunteered to interview prospective applicants to my undergraduate and graduate alma maters; by far, the biggest missing skill in applicants is being able to speak even Spanish fluently, much less a more challenging foreign language.

The Scarsdale Administration announced in December 2015 that it will convene another World Language Committee to study how Romance languages are taught in Scarsdale schools and how Mandarin might be incorporated earlier than in high school. Two world language committees were convened in 2008  and more recently in the fall of 2015. Both committees found that the Scarsdale community has great interest in Spanish and Mandarin.

For the sake of transparency and a good use of taxpayers' dollars, it would be very helpful for the administration to inform the Scarsdale community:

  • who will be in the new world language committee and when will it be established,
  • the type of foreign language and level of fluency of committee members,
  • the objectives of the group,
  • the timeline of the language study proposal, and
  • when Scarsdale children will have more choice of foreign languages beyond the current Romance language offerings.

Recently, a Scarsdalian young man won a prestigious Schwarzman scholarship to study in China. In addition to his native English, he acquired fluency in Mandarin and Spanish; however, he acquired those foreign languages in a private Catholic school. The Scarsdale administration, together with the Board of Education and dedicated parents, is very capable of empowering Scarsdale's children to learn foreign languages in our public schools. Just because we live in Scarsdale Village, does not mean that we have a wall that impairs having a global vision. Let's make 2016, the year of FULL STEAM AHEAD!

This article was submitted by Fox Meadow Resident Mayra Kirkendall-Rodriguez

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Comments   

#20 Mayra Kirkendall-Rodriguez 2016-01-26 10:43
Thank you to those of who you wrote constructive comments, for or against the points that I make in my article. You may have noticed that I included links to prove my points. I also thank those Scarsdale residents who have emailed me to thank me for the several articles that I have researched and published here and in other Scarsdale press.

For those of you who are interested, the Scarsdale Administration and Board of Education wrote in their December 14th agenda posted on their website that they thanked the Mandarin in the Middle School Initiative for our 100 page memo on foreign languages and Mandarin in Scarsdale schools. They also wrote that they were in agreement with many of our observations about foreign language instruction in Scarsdale and about our points about Mandarin. We will continue our written and oral dialogue with the Administration and Board; we continue to thank them for their hard work to improve Scarsdale schools. And we continue to help in that endeavor.

I am also happy to see that irony is not dead in Scarsdale. 'Oy Vey' used a lovely and expressive foreign language, Yiddish, to name him/herself.

I look forward to answering some of the points raised about this article in my next one.
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#19 Aiming high enough? 2016-01-25 21:41
Name: Aiming high enough?

Why is a member of this supposedly education-minde d community being personally attacked here for wanting to improve Scarsdale education? What the author is trying to say in referring to STEAM is that foreign language acquisition is a 21st century skill on par in value with science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics. And she is correct, at least according to the Association of American Colleges and Universities: “College Learning for the New Global Century” and “Principles of Excellence”. The author is also fair in pointing out that our students may be graduating with a lack of confidence and proficiency in their oral language skills.

While I have heard from other parents and graduates that our students, especially those who have taken honors & AP level language, are very well prepared for college and do well on college placement exams; it is also likely that Scarsdale could improve in the area of students' oral proficiency. This is no fault of our teachers and is likely true of many K-12 programs. Students really have to have consistent opportunities to speak the language, which can’t typically happen when class sizes are 22-25 or more students. T

he American Council on Foreign Languages' recommended class size is "no more than 15 students". It is curious that no one in the Scarsdale school community is questioning our language class sizes and that many parents are seemingly accepting of the status quo. Maybe this community needs a clearer picture from our Superintendent of what our students need to be successful, engaged global citizens in the 21st century? And is it really enough and fair to our students to compare ourselves only to area public schools when we define Scarsdale excellence? As another writer here noted, Scarsdale has had a long history of aiming higher and of actually leading in education, which is why it is heartening to know Scarsdale still has residents like Mayra Kirkendall-Rodr iguez.
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#18 Is Scarsdale Still a Utopia? 2016-01-25 14:21
[quote name="oy vey!"]You spelled "utopia" wrong.
quote]

Thanks for pointing out an obvious typo.

My comments on some "serious reflection, contemplation, and consideration" of Ms. Rodriguez advocacy are my sincere hope for all Scarsdalians whom the Board is watching and waiting.

Yes, the BoE and Admin have said that they are forming a World Language Committee to conduct a year long study of the District's overall world language curricula. While it is certainly a move in the right direction, in my opinion, it falls short of another important responsibility of the Board and our not so new Superintendent - having a clear vision and foresight to lead Scarsdale into the 21 Century.
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#17 Utophia? 2016-01-25 06:49
[quote name="Is Scarsdale Still a Utophia?"]But I would beg Scarsdalians to ask a few soul-searching questions: Have we been basking under our own halo for too long while others in area, national and international public and private schools are passing us by when it comes to World Language offerings?

The sad truth is that Scarsdale lost its mojo a long time ago - and not just in World Languages. We offer a mid-20th century curriculum staffed by well-compensate d but undistinguished faculty. Our facilities are crumbling. Despite lip service paid to steam, we have failed to innovate in any meaningful way. Our community's provincial attitude help to preserve the mediocre status quo. And our students - the 'pride' of our village with test scores and gpa's that have to be propped up with expensive tutoring - remain pampered and unprepared to survive in the real world
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#16 oy vey! 2016-01-24 22:09
You spelled "utopia" wrong.

I graduated from Scarsdale High School within the last few years, having started my world class education at Fox Meadow.

Also, Mayra's advocacy already received "serious reflection, contemplation, and consideration," as evidenced by the BOE's thoughtful, articulate responses.

Other than that, I thought your response, "Is Scarsdale Still a Utophia?" was spot on!
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#15 Keeping up w/ the world 2016-01-24 22:06
Mandarin has become the second most useful language in business after English (source: Bloomberg). Thank you Ms. Rodríguez for suggesting to our school and board to evaluate the recent trends, it will help strengthen the World Language Program and better prepare our students as global citizens. Thank you for highlighting the importance of language in the overall education - we hope to have a more comprehensive World language program in the near future!
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#14 Is Scarsdale Still a Utophia? 2016-01-24 17:23
In Carol O'Connor's 1983 book "A Sort of Utopia: Scarsdale, 1891-1981," she writes that since before 1930 Scarsdalians have been demanding private school-like results from their public school system. Over 30 years after O'Conner's book was published, this desire has remained remarkably unaltered. The result is the continued attraction of new and young families to the Dale amid sky rocketing taxes and housing prices.

But I would beg Scarsdalians to ask a few soul-searching questions: Have we been basking under our own halo for too long while others in area, national and international public and private schools are passing us by when it comes to World Language offerings? And is the reason we are letting this happen because we have chained ourselves too tightly to Albany's tax cap and lost sight of what educational excellence now means in the changing and evolving world around us?

As a concerned parent with a professional and diversified background, Ms. Mayra Rodriguez's advocacy deserves our community's serious reflection, contemplation, and consideration!
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#13 Mayra Kirkendall-Rodriguez 2016-01-24 14:14
Quoting Another parent:
Still waiting for the link to the world language survey results...
The links to both surveys are in the article where I mentioned them. They are also on the Scarsdale Board of Education site. The article also contains links to academic research citing benefits of foreign language acquisition.
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#12 Another parent 2016-01-24 09:47
Still waiting for the link to the world language survey results...
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#11 PS1 2016-01-23 11:32
If every school in Westchester were failing to teach languages as badly as MKR insists, a responsible district would end foreign language instruction and invest elsewhere, in success.
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