So that the city school district may save $100,000, a handful of eighth-graders will be studying Mandarin and Arabic on their own next year.
The Board of Education has approved the elimination of both languages at the middle school level. If voters approve the 2014-2015 budget Tuesday, neither language will be taught until high school.
For students entering seventh grade next year, the change just reduces their choices for foreign language classes. But for this year’s seventh-graders, the change means stopping midstream on the language studies they began this year. They’ll have to switch to another language next year.
But they may switch back in ninth grade, where Mandarin and Arabic are still offered — and many students are hoping to keep up at home and jump into freshman classes in a year.
“I could go online and take Chinese,” said Sabrina Yearwood, 12, referring to Mandarin by the district’s course title.
She added that she’s dedicated to learning the language — and so is her family.
“My uncle’s going to take me to China and Japan this summer,” she said.
Fellow student Aliya Ramcharran, 12, said she picked Mandarin because it was unusual.
“I like learning languages no one knows. It’s something different from just Spanish,” she said.
She added that she will turn to online classes, too.
“I’d kind of try to hold onto it,” she said.
Teacher James Glotzhober, who teaches at Mont Pleasant Middle School and at Schenectady High School, is hoping they come back in a year.
He said he was disappointed by the decision to cut the classes — but understood the “financial realities.”
His seventh-grade class has just nine students. Mandarin and Arabic have the fewest students of all the foreign languages offered, according to school officials.
But removing the toughest languages from the middle school level doesn’t make good physiological sense, he said.
“It’s sad, because middle school is basically right at the end of that stage where a student’s mind is a sponge for language,” he said. “It’s kind of damaging to their progress.”
He was also disheartened that the proposed budget cut the small elementary school foreign language program.
Superintendent Laurence Spring has called the program ineffective. But Glotzhober said he had hoped it would grow into a powerhouse that would prepare students for regular Mandarin and Arabic instruction in middle school.
“I was pretty impressed” by the existence of the program, he said.
Cutting it all is a loss, he added. “That was kind of a letdown,” he said. “But I’m aware of the real-life circumstances.”
He said his current seventh-graders might be able to enter a ninth-grade Mandarin class with just a month or two of review.
“They’d have the basics down,” he said. “Chances are, the ones who sign up for it are the ones who remember it a little bit.”
The language isn’t easy. There are almost no cognates — words similar to words in English — and students must learn to use tones as well as standard pronunciation.
Then there’s the written language, in which they must learn characters rather than using the Latin alphabet that they learned in kindergarten.
“The written aspect is difficult,” Glotzhober said.
But it’s worth it, he said.
“Your job prospects become much more appealing,” he said. “It really will set you up and make you a more attractive candidate for university and career.”