Eighth grade marks the first time Mattituck students are allowed any input about their class schedules: It’s when they get to choose whether to take French or Spanish as part of their four-year foreign language requirement.
Beginning this fall, however, students will no longer have a choice. They’ll all be placed in Spanish classes as Mattituck High School begins phasing out its French language program.
Principal Shawn Petretti said the change is primarily due to monetary constraints from continually dropping enrollment and the state-mandated two percent tax cap on budget increases for the district.
“It forced us to look at the sustainability of our programs and what we’re going to be able to still offer students,” he explained.
A presentation at the March budget workshop predicted district enrollment will be at its lowest point in 30 years during the 2016-17 academic year, and that it will have dropped 15 percent since five years before. Additionally, fewer children are opting to learn French, Mr. Petretti said.
High school students already on the French track will continue taking the necessary courses to finish their foreign-language requirement, but from now on, all incoming eighth-graders will only be able to take Spanish classes.
“It was not an easy decision for the administration to make,” Mr. Petretti said. “By no means did we want to become a high school that only offered one language.”
He said class sizes will remain about the same.
“The change came as a shock to everyone in the department,” said Mattituck High School Spanish teacher Kathleen Galvin. “We understand the logistics, of course, but the disappointment of losing a language was tremendous for all of us.”
When asked about the lack of options for native Spanish-speaking students, Mr. Petretti said the administration had considered the issue.
Ms. Galvin added: “Some students who speak Spanish at home still choose to take the class, because maybe they’ve never gone to school specifically for Spanish and want to learn to read and write the language. Or, they’re interested in learning more about the culture and ancestry of their family.”
Wilson Quizhpi, a student at Rochester Institute of Technology who graduated from Mattituck High School in 2011, was one of the few native Spanish-speaking students who opted to take French when he was in high school.
“I first took French because Spanish is my native language and I liked my slang Spanish,” he said. “To me, the more languages one has under their belt, so many more doors open for them.”
The high school’s current French teachers, Andrea Donals and Ted Biedenkapp, both hold dual certifications to teach French and Spanish, Mr. Petretti said.
Mr. Biedenkapp said this isn’t the first time French has started to “dribble out” in Mattituck.
“In my experience, this is the second or third time French is ‘disappearing’ — I don’t think it will necessarily be permanent,” he said. “I was hired in 1986 to take the program back over, so when I first started, French was already fledging.
“I don’t think it’s doing justice to the student body,” he said. “Because if after a year or two students realize, ‘Oh, I don’t really like Spanish, I’d like to try something else,’ they’re kind of stuck.”
Maddie Schmidt, an incoming eighth-grader, said she originally planned to take French because she’d like to travel to Paris someday.
“Obviously it came as a big disappointment when I heard Mattituck was dropping the French course,” she said. “I was hoping to learn three years of the language before I took my trip to Paris for my 16th birthday.”