Opinion: FSSA Should Offer More Foreign Languages

On the first day of orientation in 9th grade, I was put into a classroom with students who would eventually become my collaborators for various film projects during my years at Frank Sinatra School of the Arts (FSSA). I was sitting at a table with three other kids when a teacher came in with our schedules for the school year.

All of these new classes and topics I would get to explore excited me. However, a few classmates of mine, including me, noticed that one particular class was missing. When the teacher asked the class if there were any issues with our schedule, I raised my hand and said: “I was told that I would be taking Spanish this year.”

Having taken Spanish in middle school, I was expected to go onto the next level and continue learning in high school. However, when the teacher said that most freshmen didn’t take any language their first year, I was annoyed. If I waited an entire year to take first-level Spanish again, then I was afraid I would forget everything.

At FSSA, along with many other performing arts high schools, an art endorsed diploma is offered to those who concentrate in a specific visual art form whether it’s dance, vocal, film, instrumental, drama or fine art. Since those students who are pursuing that degree are putting more effort into their art form, the Chancellor’s Art Endorsement Diploma only requires 2 credits of a language other than English.

This means that if a student wanted to graduate high school and do the bare minimum, he or she would only have to study a language for one school year. Mr. Frankel, the principal of FSSA, is well aware of this requirement.

“Sinatra is a very unique school in that you take more than 20 credits in your art form over the four years, whereas in most other schools students average 10 credits we provide the opportunity for all students to take up to three years of language if they choose to take it,” he said.

Personally, I don’t think this is acceptable and feel that students should be required to take more than one year of foreign language. For the past ten years, I have tried to learn a new language in and outside of school. From the second to fifth grade, my parents sent me to an Italian after-school program in Manhattan so I could learn a new language other than English and appreciate a different type of culture than the one I have grown up in being American.

In middle school, I studied French for three years and was required to learn Spanish at the same time, which also immersed and enabled me to know more about other cultures and learn two other languages at once. If I wasn’t pushed by my parents to try learning a new language, then I wouldn’t feel this passionate about the way I view the world.

With this year being my first time not taking a language class in over a decade simply because I finished learning Spanish at a high school level, it’s hard to hear students complaining about taking Spanish. Most of my classmates who didn’t want to continue Spanish after year one already forgot the basics of the language simply because they dreaded learning something new. Although this is sad, it is the student’s choice to do so at the same time.

According to publicschoolsreview.com, the second most diverse population in FSSA are Hispanic students, making up about 36 percent of the student body. With many of those students speaking Spanish at home, having to re-learn the language in school is repetitious and boring.

Unfortunately, because Spanish is the only language offered at the school and it is a small department, students don’t even get the opportunity to have a choice of what language they would like to learn.

“It’s a school-sized budgetary issue,” said Mr. Frankel. “I would love to offer other languages such as French and Chinese, but it’s just not possible due to budget constraints. I’m not willing to take away money from the arts programs for other languages because that is not the mission of our school.”

FSSA is a pre-conservatory arts school, which puts more emphasis on the arts and academics. Other performing arts schools such as LaGuardia and Art Design offer other languages in addition to Spanish such as French, Japanese and Mandarin. So why can’t we also do that?

With all of the international trips our school has offered in the past like trips to Iceland and Italy, FSSA students should have the opportunity to understand the culture and language before going to these places as a reward. So, there are many compelling reasons why offering other foreign languages in our high school would be a positive development.

– by Sophia Singer ’20

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those solely of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Bennett as a whole.