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NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — The North Kingstown School Committee approved the 2020/21 foreign language curriculum for the district and backed Superintendent Phil Auger’s decision to cancel the high school’s foreign  exchange program for the 2020/21 school year citing concerns  over the COVID-19 pandemic in their meeting Tuesday night, which was held entirely over the video chat platform Zoom and broadcast on the district’s website.

The program, which allows NKHS to take in four foreign exchange students per school year who are housed by host families within town, was deemed too risky to go forward this year due to the uncertainties of both the budget and whether or not in-person classes would resume, despite an appeal from a host family that had an agreement with a Merit Scholar exchange  student to come over from Kazakhstan  for the 2020/21 school year.   

“North Kingstown High School has been a leader in foreign exchange in the state of Rhode Island,” Auger said. “When we had the discussion a couple of years ago to go to no more than four, it was partially because of our capacity in being able to do it and looking at it, a lot of other districts in the state do not have these programs and the ones that do are amazed that we were having more than four students, so I consider that an indication that we are leaders in this regard. We certainly value the program, but given the state of our budget, of the economy, of the status of school being in or out, we just feel like this is not something we can focus on in a smart way this year, so that’s why I made the decision to suspend it for this year.”

The committee voted 4-1 to back Auger’s decision, with committee member Jennifer Hoskins the sole dissenting vote.   

Much of the meeting was dedicated to the presentation of the district’s world language curriculum for the 2020/21 school year. The presentation, given by World Language department chair Mark DeLucia, highlighted the successes of the district in the four languages it offers, Spanish, French, German and Portuguese, as well as areas in which they need to improve.

The high school was noted as being only one of a few Rhode Island high schools to offer two Advanced Placement Spanish courses, which can result in up to 12 college credits at the University of Rhode Island and that AP test pass rates far exceeded the state average, with the university already offering early enrollment for Portuguese IV students and working on the same for advanced level German students.

Also for the German program, the German American Partnership Program, in which a group of students from Germany come to NKHS while NKHS students travel to Germany for a week, was still on for the 2020/21 school year as of the meeting, but the committee acknowledged there was a good chance that may not happen due to the current situation.

Overall participation in language classes was up across the board, with the high school anticipating five full sections of German and seven full sections of French for the first time in over a decade, while Portuguese I classes were noted to be in high demand and could potentially be increased if they increased staffing.

The district  was also keen to make sure they were matching what was going on at the high schools with Spanish to the curriculum at both middle schools in town as well as in Jamestown, with the district looking strong  on their path to meet state and district goals for biliteracy among students.

“What happens at the middle schools affects what happens later on,” DeLucia said, noting the importance of World Language at the middle school level.

The department set it’s 2020/21 goals on building upon success in both AP and overall biliteracy, continuing discussions with URI regarding their International Engineering Program, offering early enrollment for German IV students and preparing  a curriculum that is ready to deal with any potential challenges COVID-19 may prove in the year ahead.

In terms of improvements, the report noted that the department’s text resources had not been replaced since 2005, making many outdated and leading teachers to have to work to create their own resources and materials, which DeLucia noted proved a challenge when most news articles and current events in the four languages offered at the school were difficult to find at reading levels students would be able to understand, while many of the selections at their language levels were “too juvenile” for the students and noted that students needed to hear their languages being spoken in multiple accents of native speakers and not just directly from their teachers.

DeLucia said his department was looking into new online resources, citing Vices Digital for Spanish and Moziak for German while noting they were looking for a Portuguese resource from a domestic source, noting many of the materials came directly from Portugal, Brazil and other countries.

The curriculum was approved unanimously by the committee, as were all of the items on the consent agenda.

The meeting also marked the final meeting of NKHS Student Union Vice President and senior Annie Etchells, who is graduating and will be headed to Northeastern University in the fall.

She was thanked for her service by fellow student representative and Student Union President Joe Vento, as well as the other members of the committee, who wished her the best of luck in college.

The next School Committee meeting is slated for June 9 at 7 p.m. over Zoom and available on the district website.  

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