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Local Commentary: Spanish language should be taught, valued at early age

By Michael Lackey

A couple of weeks ago, my daughter, who is in kindergarten, came home from school, and with much joy and pride, she told me to listen to her sing a song counting to 10 in Spanish.

I was struck not just by her clear articulation of the numbers, but also by her enthusiasm, which certainly testifies to the quality instruction of her music teacher, Mrs. Wilts. When I asked my daughter why they are learning Spanish in school, she told me that there are two kids in her class who speak Spanish and have never seen snow, and a casual observer in Morris must certainly note that our Hispanic population is on the rise.

Given the changing demographic, this would be an ideal time, I contend, to offer Spanish as an option in the elementary school. As someone who has lived in Europe for two years, I could not help but notice a huge difference between Europeans and Americans with regard to language. Europeans, no matter how little they have studied a foreign language, eagerly practice their speaking skills whenever they get a chance, while Americans, even when they have studied a language for years, tend to be timid about speaking in public. Of course, Europeans have the advantage, since they are exposed to foreign languages on a regular basis. But our Morris youth now have the good fortune to have regular exposure to Spanish, which could benefit them a great deal.

Learning Spanish would prepare our children for college, enable them to communicate with more members of the community, inspire them to take an interest in and perhaps visit a foreign country, and ready some for international business. But there is an even more important reason for offering Spanish in the elementary school. It would send a powerful and positive message to the Hispanic community. In essence, we would be saying: "Your culture and language are valuable, so valuable that we want our children to learn your language." Moreover, Spanish in the elementary school would be an excellent way to encourage Hispanic students and parents to take an active role in our schools. Imagine how Hispanic parents and students would feel were they given the opportunity to educate our children about their culture and language.

We have a great opportunity at this moment. Teaching Spanish in the elementary school would be a great educational opportunity for our students, but it would also send an unambiguous message to the Hispanic community: We are glad that you are here, and we believe that you have something of value to share with us.

Michael Lackey is a Morris resident.