Elementary school students in Northbrook School District 28 could soon be practicing Spanish along with their multiplication tables.
On Thursday, Superintendent Larry Hewitt will present the board of education with a proposal to extend the school day in order to add 30 minutes of world language instruction.
That proposal is based on the work of two district committees. The Commission on Learning Time, a group of roughly 20 parents, teachers and board members, has studied how to structure the school day since October, while the district’s world language curriculum committee has studied instituting foreign language instruction at the elementary level for a year and a half, according to Hewitt.
Both committees have recommended adding a foreign language as early as possible.
“Research has shown that consistent language study at a young age is beneficial to brain development, even if students do not continue with a second language later in their school career,” Hewitt wrote in a letter to parents.
Furthermore, he told Patch, studies show that adding world language instruction can improve children’s performance in other academic areas. But that instruction must begin early.
“A growing body of research shows that children are able to more effectively absorb a second language when they begin their studies at a younger age,” he wrote parents.
When the world language committee surveyed district staff and parents, a majority of both groups supported the addition of world language study at the elementary level. Asked which language they would want, more than 90 percent selected Spanish as their first or second choice. According to Hewitt, the district’s schedule and finances allow for the addition of just one language at the elementary level.
The proposal does not lengthen the teacher workday but calls for adding four new teachers. Depending on their salaries, the addition of Spanish instruction would cost the district about $275,000 to $300,000, according to Hewitt.
“I think it’s important to put it in the context of our total budget,” he said. “It represents about one percent of our budget.”
If the board of education approves the proposal, the district would begin Spanish instruction in the first grade. Students would have 30 minutes of Spanish instruction, five days per week, in grades one through five.
In order to accommodate the additional instruction, District 28 would lengthen the school day by 40 minutes, and students would attend school from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. At six hours and 20 minutes, District 28’s school day is the shortest of eight neighboring districts, according to Hewitt. Most other school districts have a school day that lasts between six hours and 25 minutes and six hours and 45 minutes, he said.
In addition to adding language instruction to the schedule, District 28 would also lengthen the lunch or recess period by 5 minutes.
“We heard from the parents on our commission that lunch is a stressful time for some children, who don’t have time to finish eating,” Hewitt wrote to parents.
The rest of the school day would remain largely unchanged.
“The amount of time devoted to math and science and literacy and social studies, all that stays the same,” Hewitt said. “The amount of teaching time stays the same, and the amount of preparation time stays the same.”
The board of education will take no action on the proposal Thursday, when it meets as a committee of the whole at 7:30 p.m in the District 28 Administration Center, 1475 Maple Ave. The earliest the board could pass a vote on such a proposal is at its regular meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 28, also in the administration center.
Local parent Krista Jorgensen said she is excited about the possibility of world language instruction at the elementary level in Northbrook. While her kids are in District 27, she’s been following the issue since she moved to Northbrook from the city a few years ago. She was surprised to see how few school districts offered foreign language instruction in the earliest grade levels.
Jorgensen said District 28’s program would be most similar to the language program offered in Kenilworth, where the school district provides 30 minutes of instruction to students, five days a week.
Northbrook/Glenview School District 30 expanded its Spanish language instruction at the elementary level from just fifth-graders to third- and fourth-graders this year, while St. Norbert School offers Spanish in elementary school. Other school districts offering world language instruction at the elementary level include Highland Park, Deerfield and Glencoe.
Before Jorgensen moved to Northbrook from Chicago, her daughter received Spanish language instruction while in preschool at Coonley School, a public school in the city.
“It’s exciting that Spanish has arrived in Northbrook,” she said, adding that she hoped District 28 could be a trailblazer for even earlier language instruction in other school districts—including her own.
“Or we can always move to 28,” she joked.
Editor's Note: A previous version of this article misstated how many school districts in Northbrook offer foreign language instruction in elementary school. We sincerely regret the error.