In advance of Election Day on Nov. 3, Charlottesville Tomorrow will once again mail out in-depth nonpartisan voter guides, featuring exclusive one-on-one interviews with all 25 candidates for Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, Charlottesville City Council and both local school boards. In the days before the election, we will also feature their responses to several important questions about key quality of life issues so that you can compare candidates’ answers and make an informed choice.
Charlottesville Tomorrow’s 2015 Election Center website features links to the full written transcript and audio of candidate interviews, copies of our 2015 voter guide, information on where to vote, and more. All the following passages are excerpts from our interviews.
ALBEMARLE SCHOOL BOARD, FIRST IN A SERIES
Absolutely. When I lived overseas in London and travelled throughout the Middle East for work, it was such an eye-opener to see how many languages the kids spoke, and as a result the adults spoke, and I think we’re far behind in that. I think the program that is in place at Cale [Elementary] with full-immersion Spanish, that was an eye-opener to me, and I know there are people who have worked at Cale and who are now principals who would love to be able to put that in their schools. So I think absolutely, the more opportunity there is for world languages of all sorts, I would love to see that.
I just found out about the world language instruction, and I think it’s really interesting how, the two models were explained to me, about how you have sort of an immersion program and then you have sort of a push-in model. They have it at Cale [Elementary], and they’re going to pilot it at Meriwether Lewis [Elementary].
One of the things as we think about world languages and we think about how we perceive ourselves, I know young people in this community who speak seven languages. They don’t see that as a benefit because they only focus on the fact that they don’t speak English all that well. And I think that we’re kind of crazy that we don’t see the process of learning a language, putting aside all the politics and all of that, the process of learning a language is huge.
The principal at Meriwether Lewis and I were talking about how when you’re learning a language you’re not giving up something, you’re learning everything you need to know, the planning, the critical thinking through the lens of learning a language, and not learning a language, but learning in a language. So it seems to me that it’s a shifting of resources rather than creating a whole new bubble of money to come up with those things. You know, we probably need a little bit more money to make it happen. Would I support a budget initiative if it were $1 million? No. If it were $10,000, yes. If it were somewhere in between, maybe. I’m definitely in support of children learning world languages, but I’m not going to say yes and then get run out of town on a rail.
Actually, not at this time. And I know a lot of people are going to be very upset that I said that. I’m not opposed to world languages. I myself have attempted to learn four different languages. My son is bilingual and my husband and my mother-in-law are bilingual.
But right now we are looking at cost. And it’s like all the other electives. If you don’t have funding you have to cut somewhere and since language is not really a requirement, I don’t see the efficacy of that. Then you also have to look at what language or languages do we want to promote and I think even before I arrived here, the county had explored teaching different languages other than Spanish, which is currently being taught.
So how do you figure out based on the market what languages, and also giving parents a say in what languages they want their children to learn.
Jason Buyaki * Incumbent
I have not in the past made the expansion of world languages a priority because we have so many other priorities that we need to continue to support. Expanding world languages I think is a good thing, my concern has always been I don’t want it to be a single language focus. I want to have multiple languages available to students. Simply choosing one language and calling that a World Languages program is a falsehood and that’s what we are doing right now. We have a world LANGUAGE program, but let’s expand it to some other languages. If we expand it to other languages I think I could come around to supporting it, but the challenge is we’ve got a tight budget. We’ve always had a tight budget and trying to figure out which priority to support is always the challenge, but right now I don’t support that as a number one priority.
Samuel Miller District
Simply no, and here’s why. What is better, speaking Spanish or building wealth and taking care of your family? I am confident that our priority is helping our community and especially those in the lower incomes, pick themselves up, it’s not building comprehensive language programs. The folks that really want their kids to learn second languages have that opportunity currently in our schools and we have always got private instruction and tutoring for languages as well. But I think as a county let’s help those in the lower income brackets how to pick themselves up and build wealth and really start putting themselves in a position where they can take care of themselves before we pick up other responsibilities.
Yes. As the world sort of shrinks due to computers and a lot of other things it’s really important that we realize that being able to communicate with a lot of different countries, like China, Russia, a lot of countries, Iran even, that we would really have the need to be able to communicate with those other countries, and also to be aware of their culture. And by doing that we would probably be able to have better economic ties with those countries. And so that is something that would really be necessary. That would be the main thing, the world economy and the need to identify more and find out more with their cultures.
I think I would. I’ve seen a lot of studies on the positive impact that languages have on academics, and a child’s learning ability. My daughter is actually at Cale Elementary and she’s in the two-way immersion program, so we get to see how that works. So far it’s been a positive experience for her and we’re excited that she gets this opportunity. And I know that, especially in some of our areas of Albemarle County, that there are a lot of ESOL students, so when we have that dynamic, it seems to make sense that we ought to leverage some of these two-way immersion programs to not just help the English speakers, but also make it easier for those ESOL students to acquire the skills they need to learn English as well.
Steve Koleszar * Incumbent
The board has had this as a priority and wanted to do this for almost 15 years and for various reasons, mostly cost, we’ve been slow to move on it. We do have a very effective dual language immersion program now at Cale Elementary. They started developing it about four or five years ago. This year it’s gotten to the third grade. I think it is state of the art. It’s really great. Everybody gets at least 120 minutes of instruction a week in Spanish, but the kids that are in the dual-language immersion portion of that have half their day in English and half their day in Spanish. And as Dede Jones says, ‘monolingualism is the new illiteracy.’
In a very tight budget year, we allocated $20,000, a very tiny amount of money, so that two new elementary schools can plan and in 2016 hopefully we’ll have the funding and then we’ll be able to expand that to two more. Eventually I’d like to see it expand throughout the school division because children are so good at learning languages at that age that it’s really almost criminal not to give them the opportunities and the brain development and the language skills that come with the dual language program.
White Hall District
I like the fact that world languages is discussed now. I think it’s, gosh, at a younger age, children are able to master foreign languages better. In this day and age, in a global economy, we need to know, or the students need to be more prepared to communicate in other languages. I would suggest to start, if we did have an initiative to start anything, maybe to test run it at a few elementary schools. There might be one or two schools that already do this, I’m not sure, but I would test this first before I put it in to all schools. But it’s a great idea and it’s so valuable to have these children learn another language when they’re young. By the time they’re in high school, it’s a little bit harder to learn. They struggle a little more.
Yes. My daughter has not taken a foreign language yet. She’s in sixth grade, and she’s not going to take it until the second semester of her sixth grade year. We talked about catching up, when you get behind you can’t catch up, the reality is the best time to learn a language is when you’re five and six years old, because of the way your brain is morphed, you’re more receptive to those words. In other communities around the country students are learning Spanish, French, German, and quite frankly, the way the economy is, I think we should start teaching this, Mandarin Chinese, at kindergarten. And the fact that we’re not doing this in all of our schools is a mistake, and I think we need to move to address that.