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Le Départ: Declining Enrollment Threatens French Program

West+and+Creek+French+teacher+Jennifer+Polland+introduces+an+assignment+on+April+27++to+her+7th++class+of+10+students.+French+enrollment+at+West+has+been+steadily+declining+ever+since+students+have+returned+from+online+learning.
Carly Philpott
West and Creek French teacher Jennifer Polland introduces an assignment on April 27 to her 7th class of 10 students. French enrollment at West has been steadily declining ever since students have returned from online learning.

Four years after the COVID-19 pandemic, Creek’s middle schools are finding themselves forced to cut French programs due to lack of teachers and enrolling students.

When the pandemic started, many students switched to Elevation, an online grade 6-12 school, where French wasn’t available. Although students and teachers have since returned to school, the French program has not. It is unavailable at Campus Middle School, and West Middle School’s decline in students enrolling in French classes means West may soon lose its French program too.

“I am very sad and disappointed,” former Campus French teacher Ludmila Bien said via email. “A lot of the students tell me how much they have learned in middle school and what a great help it was to them at high school.”

The district’s middle school French program covers basic sentences – such as greetings and responses – but even just simple phrases and words give a fundamental introduction to the language.

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“I’ve found that having started so early, I have certain instincts when it comes to speaking French, and I have a much better recall for vocabulary,” senior Eden Reavis said.

Creek’s French program normally includes French 1, 2, 3, 4, 3/4 Honors, AP Language and Culture (serving as level 5), and Literature 6 Honors, but without students being able to start French 2 in high school, fewer students will make it to the higher level courses.

“I think what it’s going to affect is the types of classes we can offer because more students will start French in high school, and we may not be able to continue offering a class like this [French Lit],” French teacher Angela Moreen said.

For West eighth grader Phoenix Zhang, finding out that the French program was cutting down its French 1B classes meant that they weren’t able to advance and had to redo a year. It was a shock, as their class wasn’t informed until the beginning of this year.

“[T]hey only said that there weren’t enough people so they had to merge classes,” Zhang said, “which meant that one class got pulled back for a year.” At West, sixth graders are currently unable to take French.

But the program isn’t entirely gone. Next year, French teacher Jennifer Polland will be teaching a beginning French class for seventh grade, but the program is still at risk.

“It will all depend on how many students choose to start in seventh grade,” Polland said. “Maybe it will go back up to two sections, but my sense is that we may eventually lose it forever at West.”

Some French classes were cut in order to maintain other programs with more student interest.

“I have to make certain that I’m making the best decision for the school and the student learning experience,” Monica Garcia, West principal and former World Languages teacher, said. “It’s been a very hard decision, and one I don’t take lightly.”

If the enrollment rate continues to shrink, middle schools will likely be forced to cut the program and middle schoolers will no longer have the opportunities that students before them did.

“I have never experienced anything like [French class], and it’s one of my fondest middle school memories,” sophomore Kimaya Kini said. “It breaks my heart to hear that eighth graders won’t have that opportunity anymore.”

This story was originally published on Union Street Journal on May 9, 2023.