Forget about boarding a plane. For students at the Freehold Learning Center, sunglasses are the tickets to another country.
“These are our international glasses,” said Spanish teacher Angela Isaacs. “This is the way we can see the other world and see other people with their own eyes.”
It’s Spanish class for second graders. The Freehold Borough Public Schools Pre-K to 8 district offers Spanish as a world language to all students.
An American Councils for International Education Survey and Report indicates more than 50 percent of New Jersey K-12 students are enrolled in foreign language classes — the highest in the nation.
“I would urge other states to follow New Jersey’s good example. You’re a pioneer in this country right now, perhaps without even intending to be, by just doing what you thought was the right thing to do,” said Dan Davidson, director of the American Councils Research Center.
All school districts in the state are required to have K-12 world language programs and all high school students must earn at least five credits in world languages to graduate.
“I believe that the world that our students are going to be adults in, they need to be bilingual and aware of other cultures will be absolutely critical,” said Freehold Superintendent Rocco Tomazic.
At the Freehold Learning Center, students participate in Mexican traditions.
“It gives the students a solid foundation on not just the language, but also how people live in those countries,” said Cecilia Zimmer, supervisor for bilingual, ESL and world languages for Freehold Borough Public Schools.
The majority of Garden State students are taking Spanish class.
“But that picture is fairly dynamic if you look at our numbers,” said Davidson. “You’ll see that apart from Spanish, a number of other languages including Asian languages, in particular Chinese, are also growing very, very quickly.”
Students aren’t just learning another language during the school day. The 21st Century Community Learning Center, a voluntary after school program, offers both Spanish and Mandarin to their students.
“A lot of students don’t realize they can actually learn Mandarin,” said Lawrence High School Mandarin Chinese teacher Tsun-Ju Lin, who also volunteers at the Freehold Intermediate School. “They always think Mandarin is very difficult in the beginning, but we try to make it fun for students to learn. And in the end, they realize they all can learn.”
Lin is helping students learn a bit more about the Chinese culture with an interactive game. At the same time, they’re also learning their numbers. The kids grab a jelly bean with chopsticks and carry it to another plate without dropping it while the others count.
In the 21st Century Spanish class, students learn more about countries and capitols while singing a song.
“It’s a really useful skill to have. Even if I don’t become officially bilingual, I’ll still be able to understand some stuff and I think it will be really good for me later in life,” said student Emma Howson.