New Chinese, Arabic Language Focus in N. Va Public Schools

F.C.’s Mason High Boasts Solid Rise In S.A.T. Scores

Northern Virginia is not wasting any time staying at the forefront of the new national trend to teach Chinese and Arabic languages in its public schools. New programs are being launched with the start of the school year in the City of Falls Church and Arlington and Fairfax counties.

In Falls Church, where the school system is buoyed by the report that SAT scores there bucked national and state trends to rise considerably, new staff has been added that will provide classes in Mandarin Chinese and Arabic to all students in grades 8 through 12.

A new program launched last year, known as FLES (Foreign Language in Elementary Schools), teaches an array of foreign languages in Fairfax County elementary schools. The initiative, which is expanding from nine to 25 schools this fall, is designed to meet the Fairfax School Board goal of having all students fluent in a second language by the time they graduate high school there.

The languages include Chinese and Arabic, which will begin being taught at two Falls Church-area schools, Beech Tree (Arabic) and Shrevewood (Chinese) next week. At a third area school, Graham Road, an existing Spanish language program will continue.

Arlington County schools were selected to be among a handful of beneficiaries of grants from the National Foreign Language Center at the University of Maryland. Their grant was used this summer for special “exploratory and enrichment” camps for Arabic and Chinese.

The Alexandria campus of the Northern Virginia Community College also received a grant from the same program to train teachers in those two languages over this summer.

In Fairfax’s new FLES program, in addition to Chinese and Arabic, students depending on their school, will receive training in French, Italian, Japanese, Latin and Spanish. All students will receive 30 minutes of education twice a week during the regular school day.

This program will run in addition to the on-gong partial-immersion programs where half a school day is taught in a foreign language and the remainder in English. Thirteen county elementary schools offer that program to students who enroll.

There are also 18 elementary schools in the county that have been identified as “focus schools,” offering unique school-wide instructional initiatives to all students. Those in the Falls Church area include the Sleepy Hollow Elementary (block scheduling), Graham Road Elementary (languages and arts) and Lemon Road Elementary (academy of academic excellence).

Graham Road and Timber Lane Elementary are among seven schools, overall, that follow modified school calendars. They began their school years on July 30 as part of a “year-round” school program. Also, Falls Church High and Stuart High, both in the Falls Church area of Fairfax County, began their fall semesters two weeks earlier than usual, on August 20.

That early launch program was introduced to give students more study time before Standards of Learning, Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate testing is done in the spring.

Twenty Fairfax elementary schools are Project Excel schools that involve a reorganized school day, focused instructional programs and computer-based phonics instruction to supplement new reading textbooks with a strong phonics component. Those schools include Graham Road and Westlawn Elementary schools.

Falls Church schools released the results of its SAT scores yesterday, boasting in a press release, “In a year when state and national averages dropped, the George Mason High School scores rose substantially from 2006.”

“A gain of 10 points would be considered significant,” School Superintendent Lois Berlin said in the statement. “Our students’ gain of 28 points overall is extraordinary, and we are so proud of their success.”

It was also noted that the percentage of Mason students who took the exam rose from 75% in 2006 to 89% in 2007. The Mason High Class of 2007 “also recorded the highest high school graduation rate in the area (97.4%) and 10 percent of the class received National Merit Scholar recognition as either finalists or commended students. Roughly 90% of GMHS graduates are seeking post-secondary degrees, primarily in four-year colleges and universities.”

Between 2006 and 2007, while Mason’s SAT combined average grew from 1709 to 1737, the national average dropped from 1518 to 1511 and the Virginia average dropped from 1525 to 1520.