Señor Peterson leads activities in his Spanish I class, where freshmen have a chance to start four years of Spanish.
Photo By: Semay Alazar

Last year, Highline Public Schools (HPS) made changes to their language curriculum that affected all of the schools that reside in the District. In turn, this compelled RAHS to cut Japanese out of the school, add in Spanish 3, and allow freshmen to take four years of Spanish.

Spanish instructor William Peterson recalls that Japanese had been a long-standing and integral part of the RAHS language department.

“The Japanese program had been here for over ten years,” said Peterson. “That’s most of the time the school has been here.”

In addition to the ending of Japanese, the second change is the District’s new requirement to have 4 years of Spanish available to students, resulting in the new Spanish 3 course and Japanese being pared. Therese Tipton, the RAHS principal, was a significant part of implementing these changes into RAHS.

“In Highline specifically, one of our strategic planning goals is that all students are biliterate or bilingual by class of 2025 or 2026,” said Tipton. “So, our school district, as a whole, said we want to make sure that in order to help all students that all schools will ensure that there [are] 4 years of a language offered. So at Raisbeck, in past years, we had two languages, but there [were] only 3 years of each.”

To meet the standards set by the District and the state, RAHS needed to undergo a renovation of its language department, which included hiring Ramana Marshalla, the most recent Spanish instructor.

“Hiring another Spanish teacher and also offering Japanese was going to be impossible because of budget restrictions,” said Marshalla. “My understanding is that in order to comply with the law, the decision had to be made to make Spanish the full time language for this school and, unfortunately, we had to lose Japanese because of that.”

The District had their own set of challenges when making the changes to all of the language departments in the District. Bernard Koontz, Executive Director of Language Learning and Teacher Development at Highline Public Schools, had an integral part in putting the above planning goals into effect in the high schools that are in the HPS boundaries by implementing strategies to improve the relationship between teachers and students.

“To support the management and coordination of language learning in schools, developing strong relationships with [the] staff and community is critical. Focusing on developing those relationships is critical,” says Koontz. “Teachers came together over the summer to learn together, and continue to meet to continue how to best support students’ language learning.”

Working closely with Koontz is Kristin Percy Calaff, the Director of Language Learning at HPS. She helped meet with the teachers and executives from each school and assisted each school in managing schedules and class allocations.

“We meet with school executive directors who work with principals, secondary success directors, and the Chief Academic Officer to plan how to support schools in this process,” said Calaff. “This group will continue to meet and will be working on supporting schools that are still making adjustments to their course offerings and master schedules for next year. We will also be working with our middle schools to expand World Language offerings in the next few years at the middle school level.”

While the effect of these actions have been beneficial for those being able to take four years of Spanish, they have also taken a hard toll on the students already taking Japanese, such as RAHS sophomore Han Luu.

“Even though my grades in Japanese [were not] as good as the other students, I still wanted to take four years of Japanese because I knew I would be able to improve as I [understood] what I [had] to do for each Japanese [class] and slowly transition into it,” said Luu. “After it was cut off, I had to start back at point one with Spanish, but this time, I can only get three years of Spanish, not four.”

Senior Rachel Phuong was first enthralled by Japanese due to her interest in anime.

“When I was in eighth grade, I really loved anime,” said Phuong. “I loved the language that it was in, the culture and just everything that reflected in anime and plus I thought Spanish was a very normal thing to learn in high school; I wanted to be different and I wanted to challenge myself with Japanese.”

Phuong was also a part of the many students who tried to convince the district to hold on to Japanese.

“I worked really hard to keep Japanese at our school. I wrote a letter to the school board with our class’ thoughts of the sudden discontinuation and had the class sign it,” said Phuong. “I also helped run the petition, and I went to the next school board meeting where I presented my points in front of the school board.”

Spencer Slaton, a senior, was distraught when he found out that Japanese would be omitted.

“[Something] that irked me and many others was the fact that NO ONE had ever been asked for their opinion, or people polled to find out what the interest in the class was for years going forward,” said Slaton. “It felt like the administration did not truly care for these students. For me, personally, I was sad that I would not be able to continue taking a class I had so much interest for.”

However, Slaton was able to retrieve the rest of his credits through the language proficiency test.

“For me, my credits are unaffected. I already have Spanish credits for language, and was able to take a proficiency test to get 3 credits of Japanese,” said Slaton. “However, for a few students who had just finished their sophomore year and were unable to get these credits, it is now impossible to take 3 consecutive years of a foreign language.”

In addition to the inclusion of Marshalla, freshmen are also given the option to take Spanish.

“It was smaller class sizes with just sophomores, so it was like 20 people in [each] class,” said Peterson. “[But] I would say that there’s more energy [that the freshmen bring]. The freshmen have a lot of [enthusiasm], similar to middle school. I don’t mean that in an offensive way to the freshmen. [There’s more] physical, up and down energy.”

Freshman Lucas Sherles took Spanish in middle school and thinks the differences between the two styles of teaching the language are very distinct.

“In middle school, the class was not taught out of a textbook, but was quite structured towards learning one specific topic,” said Sherles. “In addition, the class was taught more towards the test. Spanish at RAHS is different in the way that the class is taught around events that are going on in real life, and the test is based on what is taught in class, not the other way around.”

In contrast, freshman Marco Jawili did not learn Spanish in middle school and went to Nicaragua last summer with his youth group. There he helped kids who didn’t have parents or their support, but couldn’t communicate well with them due to the language barrier, which motivated him to take Spanish.

“Though exchanging our thoughts was difficult, I connected to the kids through soccer,” said Jawili. “During the trip, we lived alongside the kids and essential bonded with them. The entire experience was fascinating and eye-opening, but if I understood Spanish, I felt like this experience would be even more incredible.”