News and notes from Reston (tm).

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Silent Protests Planned Over Proposed Language Immersion Cuts During County Budget 'Dialogues'

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Public hearings about proposed budget cuts to Fairfax County schools that would end language immersion, full-day kindergarten and other arts programs at Lake Anne Elementary and other schools throughout the county continue tonight. A new group of advocates is planning a silent demonstration outside of tonight's meeting at Herndon High School.
Join us as Fairfax FLAGS, along with many community members, conducts silent demonstrations Wed., Dec. 2, starting at 6:15 p.m. outside of Herndon High School prior to the Fairfax County community budget dialogues.

Following the demonstration, is a county budget dialogue session, 7-9 p.m., at Herndon High School. Two more sessions are at Lake Braddock and Hayfield secondary schools with community members demonstrating beforehand as well.

Even though the dialogues are considered full, previous sessions have allowed unregistered community members to participate -- this is your chance go be heard!

Bring a sign and let's make clear that funding for FCPS is critical to preserve its world-class school system and key at-risk programs such as elementary school foreign language, elementary band and strings, and full-day kindergarten.
The FLAGS group was formed by parents concerned about the potential end of language programs in county elementary schools.
Language immersion programs at a dozen elementary schools and an introduction to foreign language at 31 elementary schools also are at risk. Cutting both would save $3.4 million.

School leaders say the early programs are crucial to producing a generation of bilingual students. Two or three years of high school French typically is not enough to get students beyond a beginner level, said Paula Patrick, coordinator for the county's world languages program. It takes more time to move past memorizing vocabulary lists and start communicating. Students are more likely to master a second language if they start young, she said.

Tina Meek said her family chose to move near Fox Mill Elementary school in Herndon because of its immersion program, which allows students to spend half their days studying in Japanese. Meek's mother was Japanese, but she grew up speaking English. She struggled to learn Japanese in college and later in Japan. In contrast, her daughters, in fifth and second grade, are learning easily, she said. By first grade, they were correcting her accent, she said.

Meek and Chantilly parent Sandy Knox have formed a group called Foreign Language Advocacy for Grade Schools, or FLAGS, to save the elementary programs. Knox helped bring Spanish instruction to Brookfield Elementary two years ago. The program offers a half-hour of instruction twice a week in one of seven languages. It is intended to go districtwide, but two years of tight budgets have slowed expansion; fewer than one in four elementary schools offer the course.

Knox said she was compelled by research that shows how learning a foreign language helps the brain develop and how beneficial language skills are in a global economy.

"My son will be hitting the workforce in 16 years, and I think he will be at a disadvantage if he doesn't speak another language," she said.
Sixteen years from now, we'll be lucky if the country isn't owned outright by the Chinese, but we're pretty sure they'll find it cute when we ask them if they want an extra packet of hot sauce in French or German as they go through our fancy, All-American "drive-throughs."


  1. Peasant From Less Sought After South RestonDecember 2, 2009 at 10:29 PM

    Just gotta ask:

    If this is a silent protest, how exactly is it "your chance go be heard"?

  2. Everyone has their own sacred cow they do not want to see sacrificed in this process. The language immersion programs are not the be-all to end-all in FFCty education. FCPS is already over 50% of the county's total budget. The music programs in elementary school are already on the chopping block and they are open to ALL kids, not just ones who win the lottery. If people really want their kids to be bi-lingual they can a) move to some place where there's no choice or b) pay for private instruction.

    If it means one Senior Citizen can stay in a warm, dry, safe place until they pass away, I'll cut the immersion programs in a heartbeat.

    If it means one woman doesn't have to return to a home where she is regularly beaten, I'll cut the gt programs in a heartbeat.

    If it means one truly motivated young person can get out of poverty and have a chance to make something of themselves, I'd rather support that than even music.

    On the other hand, if any of those three programs are up against the Animal Shelter budget, the animals are on the hit list before the kids.

    Do you see how tough this is? These kinds of meetings serve to divide us into our own camps, rather than unite us to make FFCty best overall for everyone.

    For the record, my name is NOT pollyanna.

  3. Anon -- No one's talking about cutting the GT programs. It's funny how they program have, once again, proven absolutely untouchable in all this. At least language immersion and music programs are available to all kids, and full-day kindergarten helps the ones who need it the most.

    You're right about the structure of these "dialogues," though. They absolutely are intended to do what you suggested in the guise of seeking "input."

  4. Broke in Charter Oak (BiCO)December 3, 2009 at 8:13 AM

    Since moving here I've never seen so many people whining for more when they already have a nearly perfect public school system to begin with. Where I went to school we only had three AP offerings in high school, and teachers would artificially inflate grades of football players. Our SAT average was around 900 (pulled upwards by the few of us with the 1300+ scores). We were using outdated textbooks. Here the schools are practically enshrouded in gold, and yet people still whine "more, more, more."

    If it's true that 50% of our county's budget already goes to the schools, then I don't want to see one DIME cut ELSEWHERE!

  5. bico, nobody is asking for more. They are asking to keep programs that have been in place for decades. Some taxpayers have been paying taxes to the county their entire lives, only now to be told the programs they have been paying for forever won't be available to their own kids, and they are angry.

    Sorry you had a crappy school system growing up, but how is that relevant? Everything is not about "me, me, me."

  6. Broke in Charter Oak (BiCO)December 3, 2009 at 8:49 AM

    The point isn't that I'm whining about PA's own crappy public school system but rather that as a taxpayer I don't understand why people here are demanding services from their public schools that are only offered in PRIVATE schools in most other parts of the country. I pay taxes to Fairfax County that are then distributed to pay for elite public school systems while other services that others who don't have children rely upon face the prospect of being cut (i.e. parks & recreation, libraries, etc.) If $0.50 of every $1 I pay to the county for the "luxury" of owning a car in a car-dependent county (in my opinion then making them a necessity, but I digress) goes to to the public schools, then I'd want to see cuts made THERE first before cutting other public services. I resent the fact that I may soon not be able to visit certain parks or libraries so that John & Jane Doe can send their children to Ivy-League-level public schools.

    I'm in absolute agreement with Anonymous @ 6:51 AM. If people want so many extraneous services from their public schools then either charge user fees for them to cover their costs or tell them to go to private school. The argument of "these programs have been funded for so many years so they should be funded now" flew out the window when our nation entered into a near-depression that we've still had no success in pulling ourselves out of. During meager times like these you either raise taxes to maintain a comparable level of amenities and services (and hear people whine) or scale amenities and services back to levels that can be funded at current taxing levels (and hear people whine). I'd truly hate to be in office right now. The one's who are shouting "me, me, me" sound to be the ones who can't accept the reality that our nation's economy is in the toilet right now and sacrifices need to be made.

  7. Bico, you would be well served by trying to understand other people's points of view.

    The point is that many people live in ffx county BECAUSE of the quality of the schools, and pay a premium (in terms of overpriced housing, bad commutes, etc) in order to do that. If the schools begin to go south, it will affect the entire local economy. Will getting rid of language immersion have that effect? No. But overall, our schools are getting progessivly worse, thanks in part to the wonder of the SOLs, and now we are looking at a dramatic decrease in extracurriculars such as music, art, foreign languages, AND an increase in class size. Even this year I know people with kindergarterners in classes with 30 kids, which is supposed to be illegal in FFX county, but they seem to be doing it anyway.

    You seem to be under the illusion that the local schools are much better than they actually are. In truth, they have been in decline for some time, and it's a serious problem. Are they still better than most schools nationwide? Possibly, but it's well known how well are students are being prepared by these schools, hence the wonder of NCLB.

  8. The Convict in the GulagDecember 3, 2009 at 9:50 AM

    What's wrong with a full-day kindergarten class of 30? Heck, FCPS didn't even have kindergarten when I went to school. It worked for me; it will work for the current crop of munchkins as well.

    I really question the value of kindergarten for most kids. I'm not going to argue that some kids don't benefit from it. When you listen to the majority of parents talk in private about kindergarten, they're not saying that little Susie's chances of success are going to be undermined without it. They're talking about how it's going to effect their careers and how they're going to have to take time off from work to watch their kid and how expensive daycare is.

    I would like to see FCPS maintain its current level of services. I would like to see the county maintain its complete array of services as well. However, times are tough for everybody. The reality is that we are all probably going to have to hand over more shekels to the county and that all parts of the county are going to have to cut their budgets. So, in order to balance the budget, raise taxes and cut budgets, including the school system's.

    (BTW, I also have a couple of kids in FCPS, one of whom happens to be in a quite expensive program, so I'm not just talking about other people's services. Charity, as well as sacrifice, starts at home.)

  9. Broke in Charter Oak (BiCO)December 3, 2009 at 10:10 AM

    According to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau estimates available only 35% of all Fairfax County households had a school-aged child living in them. This means that the other 65% of county households (including my own) is paying taxes to subsidize the education of the other 35%. While I most certainly see the long-term value in that providing the next generation with the best education possible will lead to a better society overall, I also don't think school budgets should be "untouchable" during a global economic crisis.

    I may have gone to a very sub-standard public school, but I still managed to gain entry into a great college and snagged a job offer despite this recession that pays more than my former hometown's median household income. I think many parents here are under the illusion that unless the schools are the "creme-de-la-creme" that their children are going to suffer later in life, and that's not the case at all. I can rattle off numerous other success stories from my high school graduating class, some of whom are now pursuing their terminal degrees. I can also give you examples of children who attend supposedly "great" public schools who end up turning to drug addiction, alcoholism, or otherwise end up being on the lower rungs of society. The perceived "quality" of the public school has less to do with your child's future than your own involvement in their lives as effective parents and role models. All that the external image of the schools here serve to do is to drive up housing prices so those of us without children can barely afford to live here.

    Too much emphasis in this area is put upon "image" and "prestige." Do I wish I had more AP offerings in high school? Yes. Did I suffer without them? No. Parents in this county need to start asking themselves "Do my children really NEED this program to succeed in life?" Unless you're all willing to start paying higher taxes to offset the revenue shortfall that the recession has caused the county to incur I DEMAND to see the school budgets being equally as likely to be cut as any other county budget. Having "more" of something doesn't necessarily make your quality-of-life better. I already see very few reasons to put up with the traffic congestion and high cost-of-living here the way it is, so to once again burden 65% of the county's households with cuts aimed at them to help 35% of the county's households to emerge from the ax cut-free is just like poking a bear over and over again with a stick.

  10. Hickory Cluster knuckle dusterDecember 3, 2009 at 11:03 AM

    BiCO making friends again?
    You are missing the point entirely. The schools are one of the main reasons that you were even able to move to our community in the first place. Your job would probably not have existed but for the attractiveness the company locating its business to Fairfax county.

    Paying for children to go to school is what your taxes are for. Not for rearranging a perfectly fine place to add in sidewalks and streetlights when you could just jog on the paths.

    But one mote of brains existed in your post: raise taxes. There does not have to be a steep increase in property taxes to keep the education budget where it needs to be.

  11. Broke in Charter Oak (BiCO)December 3, 2009 at 12:08 PM

    Excuse me, knuckle duster? My taxes are for schools and NOT for improving Reston's infrastructure? Streetlights and sidewalks are BASIC AMENITIES in most communities, not "excesses." I have made numerous friends since I've moved here, and I don't wish to win the hearts of "everyone" as I know I'll always conflict with others. There are plenty of white-collar jobs in DC, and the public school system there is abysmal. Ditto Philadelphia and just about every other major urban city in our nation. Explain that one.

    What exactly is the "point" that I am missing? Is the "point" that I should volunteer to have services that I, a childless person, enjoy CUT so that school programs can be retained without a tax increase?

  12. The Convict in the GulagDecember 3, 2009 at 1:17 PM

    Sorry, BiCO. If I have to choose between streetlights and sidewalks or schools, schools win hands down. I can walk by the side of the road and I can buy a flashlight, if necessary. I can not afford a quality private school education for my kids.

    But your previous statements about good schools vs bad schools is not well-reasoned. The quality of an education is the confluence of a number of factors and, in general, only as good as the weakest of the links. So, sure, some kids are going to succeed in spite of bad schools. But think of how many more would have been more successful, if they had access to a quality education.

    On the other hand, there's DCPS. They spend more per student than any of the surrounding suburbs, even when you adjust for the higher cost of real estate in DC. Yet, they have the worst outcomes in the area. Why? Well, the quality of the average student and the quality of the average home environment probably have a lot to do with this. In spite of these factors, some kids in DCPS succeed. I would venture to say, though, that not nearly as many as their could be if the homes and social environments in DC were to improve.

  13. bico, surely you realize that the 65/35% numbers are useless here. Those numbers represent the percentage of people who have school aged kids RIGHT NOW, not who ever had them in the past or who will have them in the future. Heck, I have 3 kids and I'm in that 65% number because my oldest is younger than 5. My neighbors who sent 4 kids through FCPS are also in that figure since their kids have all graduated. It also doesn't include my young neighbors who don't have kids but plan to in the next several years, and plan to send them to FCPS. Shoot, you could meet someone you want to have kids with in the next 10 years (and I know plenty of gay people with children) and create a whole army of Bico's to send off to the local schools.

    The idea that 65% of people in the county get no use out of the school system is silly... you do realize that that's just the percentage of people who have kids aged 5-18 at the time the survey was taken??


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