Worldly Class For Sixth Grade In Rockingham County Public Schools

Posted: July 18, 2014

HARRISONBURG — A new language class in Rockingham County Public Schools will expose sixth-graders to other cultures and try to entice them to take language electives.

The World Languages Exploratory course will be taught for the first time this school year in county schools. The idea is to give kids a taste of at least three foreign languages and get them thinking about how to approach a new language.

“Our goal is to get kids excited about learning languages, all languages,” said Mary Gatling-Finks, who will teach the exploratory class at Wilbur Pence Middle School. “It’s just a starting point about what languages are already spoken in our community, in Pence Middle School, and how they see themselves speaking other languages.”

Gatling-Finks also teaches Pence’s seventh-grade Spanish semester course and eighth-grade course for high school credit.

At Pence, the exploratory class will run for six weeks.

At the county’s other middle schools, the course will run for nine weeks because the schools are on a different schedule from Pence, according to Charlette McQuilkin, director of student assessment.

“It’s very important for advanced studies diploma students to have two years of a language, and we want to encourage our younger students to do this,” McQuilkin said.

Gatling-Finks said she wants students to recognize that there are more people in the world who speak English as a second language than as a first, and that most people are multilingual.

She expects to introduce her students to the basics of Spanish, French and Latin, as well as teach some greetings and other basic words in Russian, Mandarin, Italian and possibly other languages, too.

The class will meet every other day for 90 minutes. It will also include learning about other cultures.

Many people may be nervous about approaching others who speak another language, but Gatling-Finks said she hopes to show her students that they don’t need to be fluent in a language to show interest in another culture.

In general, she wants students to think critically about language, including learning how to identify similarities.

Spanish and Italian, for example, are both romance languages and have many words that look or sound the same.

“I just want them to understand that once you start, you can see the patterns and you can start to recognize more words,” Gatling-Finks said. “When you apply it to other languages, it’s not overwhelming. You’re not starting from the beginning every time.”

Students will be able to choose between the languages exploratory and other courses, but Gatling-Finks said she expects most students will take it at some point during the year.

Contact Kassondra Cloos at 574-6290 or

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