My Turn: Growing concerns for JDHS Japanese program

Posted: Sunday, June 01, 2003

As a senior at Juneau-Douglas High School, I have found myself looking forward to graduation, counting the days until I can receive my diploma. But before I abandon my ties to JDHS, there is one thing that has been troubling me. Concerns have been expressed about the lack of AP classes being offered next year, but nobody has addressed the severe setback the foreign language department will be facing next year, and I think it is time this is brought to everyone's attention. Currently, I am a fourth-year student of Japanese, and will be attending the University of California at Davis next year as a Japanese major. I was inspired to choose this path by my enjoyment in the Japanese program taught at JDHS by Cheri Carson.

Currently, Mrs. Carson is teaching four periods of Japanese, two periods are first-year classes, one second-year class, and a combined third- and fourth-year class. Up until this year, Mrs. Carson was allotted only three classes, in which there was only one first-year class. The Japanese program is truly exceptional in that it has been able to maintain the required enrollment numbers over the years despite the fact there was only one first-year class, unlike other languages such as French and Spanish where there are as many as six first-year classes, and two instructors for each language.

The demand is certainly there for a Japanese program at JDHS. In past years there have been as many as 50 students signed up for one first-year class. Next year there are 76 kids signed up for first-year Japanese, which is where we run into a problem. The principal, Deborah Morse, has adamantly stated that Mrs. Carson will only be allowed to teach three periods of Japanese, rather than the four she was allowed this year. So a decision has been made to offer two first-year classes, and one second year class with 39 students, and no third-fourth-year class.

Next year there will be a change in minimum class enrollment requirements, jumping from 16 to "about 30." Due to the new policy, the third-fourth-year class has been cut from the schedule because they could not meet the minimum requirement. But what sense does this make? Therefore the administration has said the Japanese program is supposed to fill up an advanced class of around 30 students when they are allotted only one first-year class, which is an unrealistic requirement. Especially when juniors and seniors who wish to take Japanese 1 get first priority, filling up spots that underclassmen could have occupied.

So what is the solution? If you are going to deprive the Japanese program of more than one first-year class, you cannot expect them to meet the same minimum enrollments in a fourth-year class that French and Spanish must make. The administration must look at classes on a case-by-case basis and make exceptions for enrollment. I don't see the problem with small class numbers. It creates a closer learning environment, and it is easier to get help from the teacher, and to get to know your peers better. Filling up classrooms to the maximum capacity with kids is not the solution. If you do a little research, I'm sure you will find that colleges tend to agree with the "smaller is better" philosophy for classes. For example, the college I will be attending next year, allows a maximum of 30 students in all English and foreign language classes, which is a small number for a college class.

I urge you to support the Japanese program at JDHS. Our school should pride itself in offering a variety of foreign language classes and should let the programs grow. Japanese is one of the most difficult languages taught in schools, and college admission counselors tend to smile upon students who push themselves by studying a difficult language. This is an issue that must be addressed, and I encourage you all to help do something about it.

Abby Lawson is a four-year Japanese-language student, student body secretary, and a senior at JDHS.

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