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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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