Town Square

middle school electives

Original post made by ED on Feb 20, 2013

hi all,
my middle schooler and i are trying to decide what electives need to be taken in 7th gr. i hear that 2 years of middle school language equates one year of high school language.
i would like to know what other parents is worth doing 2 years of language in middle school and miss out on other 'more fun' electives?? Would doing that decrease the work load in high school?
i would love to get opinions from other parents on why they picked what they did and what they would do different given a chance to redo the decision.
thanks all,


Posted by Mom of 4, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 20, 2013 at 8:52 pm

Middle school grades aren't calculated into college applications, so my recommendation is to take the two years of world language in middle school and the grade doesn't matter (as long as it's a "C" or better). Colleges prefer to see 3 years of world language taken in high school so students who complete one year in middle school only have to take two years in high school. If world language is difficult for the student, then he can take two years in middle school and only take one more year in high school (2 years total, which is minimum for colleges). Grades in freshman year are considered, but if there is any year to earn bad grades, freshman year is more forgiven. So if there is a bad world language grade in freshman year, it's better to earn it then, rather than in both 9th and 10th grades (still not the end of the world, of course).

If the student tries world language and it is way too difficult (depending on the teacher - some are insane) so that the student is getting absolutely nothing out of it, quit the suffering and try again in high school.

Paly offers Sign Language, which fulfills the World Language requirement. However, it's only offered for 2 years and it's not necessarily an easy class (due to the teacher).

German is only offered at Gunn.

Middle school students can take two electives so your child can take world language and another "fun" class.

There are also summer camps which are fun. Definitely, the time to have fun is prior to high school.

Posted by Mom of 4, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 20, 2013 at 9:09 pm

I could be wrong about the grade needing to be a "C" or better - it was an assumption. The world language grade does not appear on the high school transcript. If a child is earning a "D" in world language in middle school, it might still count towards fulfilling the requirement, as it is still a passing grade. If that's the case, then the student only needs to suffer one more year of world language in high school and be done with it (hint: get a tutor).

Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 20, 2013 at 9:21 pm

There are pros and cons to starting a language in middle school and I would agree with the previous poster and just add a couple of comments.

The 2 year middle school language program is the same course that will be taught as 1 year in high school. In other words, the pace is slower which may or may not work for a student who is likely to do well studying a foreign language. In other words, if you are choosing a heritage language where your child may have some proficiency already it may be too slow. On the other hand, the slower pace can work better for some students and there is also time to enjoy the culture of the language in middle school which may not happen in high school.

The next comment is that the middle schools often arrange a school trip to a country that speaks the language and that may be worth factoring in to your decision.

Learning a foreign language helps English grammar understanding. English grammar rules seem pointless to a middle schooler unless they are learning another language. You may find your child's English language skills improve dramatically when they start a foreign language.

The last comment is that vocal chords are still fairly immature in middle school and it is easier to mimic a sound that is not common in English. Therefore, the younger a student starts a language, the more likely the accent will not sound forced. Generally speaking, if someone learns a language before the age of 12 they will tend to have a native speaker accent rather than a "foreign" accent when speaking with a native speaker.

Posted by What does your child want?, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 20, 2013 at 10:04 pm

My child (now a Junior in high school) chose to take video production and industrial technology, and both have served him very well. As a very academic kid, his middle school electives set him up for really interesting extracurriculars at the high school level. I think you can't really go wrong if you go with what your student is interested in. If languages float his/her boat, then the head start will set him/her up for AP and literature classes. If something else strikes his/her fancy, then it's important to explore that part of your student's life. Getting ahead in languages can free up a period sooner in high school, but exploring your interests early has big advantages, too.

Posted by Mom, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 20, 2013 at 10:57 pm

@What does your child want: I can't agree. The child needs to fulfill requirements for college so it's not necessarily up to what the child wants. There are plenty of good summer camps outside of PAUSD. Also, Video Production and Industrial Tech can still be taken along with world language because middle school students can choose 2 electives per year.

Plus, I disagree that there's much correlation between English and world language success. World language is actually math aptitude for the first 3 years because conjugating is like solving a puzzle. One of my children excelled in world language but flounders in English. It's more like English beginning in the 4th year, when there is more reading and writing.

@Paly parent: The school trip doesn't really help in learning the language and there are summer programs for world language in other countries so I wouldn't base my decision on it. And it's not necessarily offered every year, depending on whether or not a teacher wants to supervise. Seventh graders are past age 12 and the native speaker accent is the least of concerns. Mastering the language is already difficult since English is not allowed in world language classes in PAUSD (other districts allow English to be spoken up until the AP class). My child who excelled in world language had the native speaker accent by 8th grade - depends on the child.

I'm sorry if I'm coming off as a know-it-all, but with 4 children in college, I've been through it.

Posted by C, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 21, 2013 at 1:54 am

I'm not a parent, but I am a student. I took 2 years of language in middle school (Jordan, Spanish) to skip a year of language in high school (Paly). It's definitely worth it -- having 2 years of language prepares you better for the second year of high school language, I considered Spanish 2 very easy. It's also really nice that if you're talented with a language, they (Jordan) will sometimes allow you to take Spanish 2 (and I assume other languages) over the summer + you can enter Spanish 3/3H freshman year, and AP sophomore year if you wish. That route is popular because then an AP is taken in a year besides Junior year, which is hectic. Of course, there is never a guarantee that they will always offer this and it's by invite-only if I remember correctly. As for depleting the workload, in my experience, up until AP language classes are relatively little work (-30 minutes, often 10-15 minutes of HW max). Also, during the 2 years of middle school you learn a lot of material which is later taught in Spanish 2, for almost a quarter or half of the class (review).

Another thing to consider is that if you're going to take 4 electives and not a yearlong language, are there really 4 electives that interest you? For me, that wasn't the case + I really enjoyed languages at Jordan. If you'd like me to inquire as to what people in languages other than Spanish think of taking classes in middle school and the benefit in high school, I can ask around if you post the language you're considering.

Posted by the world language "elective", a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 21, 2013 at 9:17 am


All good advice you've been getting.

I will add that you should assess your child's ability in learning a world language and be sure he/she can also handle what is mostly an academic class; it has homework, quizzes and tests unlike the other electives.

In most parts of the world, learning a language is not an elective, it is a core subject and taught from Elementary School. And while it seems unfair for an "elective" here to have this additional burden of hw, quizzes and tests, we are fortunate that our middle schools teach languages with the appropriate rigor.

The other question is - do you believe in the value of your child learning a second language? Motivation and a supportive environment will make a a difference for the overall outcome.

Either way, IF you are going to have your child take a WL in High School, to comply with the 3+ years of world language that UC and many colleges like to see, I suggest you still introduce language learning in some way before High School. Camps, online programs, way before HS to establish a foundation that will have its rewards later.

Especially if your child struggles with it. Unfairly, even kids who love and want to learn a second language can have difficulty in HS. Even smart kids. It's partly the wiring, and partly that HS has other challenges. I would not have my child land cold in a world language class in High School.

To further answer your question "Would doing that decrease the work load in high school?"

Since 2 years of language in middle school are a i year of language credit in HS. That Level I is being done over a 2 year period in middle school, as opposed to doing it all in 9th grade.
The grounding is stronger if you have experienced the language over two years, and the work load in 9th will depend on your child's ability. I would caution to hear "its' easy" in case it's not the case for your student.

If world language gets difficult in HS for your student, if you have the means, seek out outside vendors to fulfill the language credit, and verify with the HS that they will be accepted. I understand they are. If you don't have the means, there are tutoring resources provided in the High Schools, and they should start early with help. Like Math anxiety, world languages can make some kids anxious, and this can be averted with a foundation.

Posted by go to bed, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 21, 2013 at 9:38 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Me, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 21, 2013 at 11:09 am

The middle school WL grade does not appear on the high school transcript.

I agree that calling WL "easy" is incorrect because for most, it is not, especially in PAUSD. Some teachers are ruthless about students learning the language and treat it as a core class. Back in my days of PAUSD WL, we barely had to speak in class but nowadays, it's part of the grade. I don't think we are "fortunate that our middle schools teach WL with the appropriate rigor." WL in other schools is easier. Colleges see the number of years completed and don't realize how rigorous WL is here in PAUSD. On the other hand, I have a child who found WL easy and is happy to be able to speak in conversations. But she's witnesses many students struggling.

I tried to prep my children in elementary school by having them take afterschool classes for almost a year but it was not worth the time and money and didn't make much of a difference even though it was a good teacher.

Posted by paly parent, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 21, 2013 at 11:27 am

A couple things to keep in mind -

Starting with the graduating class of 2016, 2 years of a World Language will be required for graduation.

Taking WL in middle school does NOT guarantee you will start in level 2, you need to be proficient enough to be in that class.

Taking WL in middle school does NOT give you a high school credit, it DOES let you start at a higher level (Spanish 2 for example)

Electives depend on the student, art, music or video production in middle school may spark a life long passion.

Posted by ED, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 21, 2013 at 11:30 am

Thank everyone for your comments and helpful insights:

we are in the terman-gunn route and my child would be a non native spanish (or any other WL) speaker. Any input on the terman teachers? i am aware of the hw requirement of WL that the other 'more fun' electives don't have, but thought if this makes the stress slightly less (say that 5 times fast!) in HS, it may be worth it.
thanks again, it is great to get the insights,

Posted by ED, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 21, 2013 at 11:37 am

thanks! it is great to get a student's insight. since my child will be a non native speaker for all WL languages, Spanish is the one of choice, since there is atleast some chance of it being used in this country!
any more insights from your friends would be appreciated too. thanks again.

Posted by Sheesh, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 21, 2013 at 1:33 pm

Way to go, School Board, specifically Melissa Baten-Caswell! You continue to up the PAUSD rigor while your children attend private schools. Just because Caswell attended Brown, doesn't mean all students can. Why would PAUSD require WL? Students who are college bound already know to take WL and those who don't can find out from advisors. WL can be torturous in PAUSD. WL teachers better tone it down when it becomes a requirement.

Posted by the world language "elective", a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 21, 2013 at 2:04 pm


"Why would PAUSD require WL? "

I have to say that without a plan to prepare students appropriately before HS, it is insane to require WL as a graduation requirement.

I expect parents to challenge this requirement, for a number of reasons, and it should be challenged without a plan to prepare students. At least now you can take the WL from an outside vendor, and go at a non PAUSD-tortured pace in the event you have a hard time with WLs.

ED - I did not mean to say that the two years of WL in middle school are HS "credit", but was thinking about it's readiness to advance to Level 2. You could likely start at any level in HS with a placement test or a transcript from an accredited place. Many use Lydian Academy in HS, to do WL there instead of PAUSD.


"I tried to prep my children in elementary school by having them take afterschool classes for almost a year but it was not worth the time and money and didn't make much of a difference even though it was a good teacher."

What you describe is not an "official"coverage of Level 1 world language. After school programs are nice for the younger kids, and though it did not work for you, it has been helpful for getting someone to have an ear for a language.

For official coverage of Level 1 and actual HS prep, I was thinking more about an accredited school, online or offline which would be acceptable as a transfer credit. PAUSD must have a long list of programs people have used.

As it is, PAUSD gives some leeway in letting you transfer outside summer from other schools as long as the core requirements for graduation are met in PAUSD. If they take the option to outsource WL credit away, and make WL a graduation requirement, it will be terrible.

Posted by the world language "elective", a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 21, 2013 at 2:28 pm


"WL can be torturous in PAUSD."

I borrowed the torture term from you, in my last, post because it can be really torturous for some students or adults.

To be clear though, the torture is because the process of learning a language, independent of PAUSD, is hard. Nobody can get you through level 1, 2, or 3 without a due process anymore than you could skip from 2nd grade Math to Algebra.

This whole WL situation is already unfair to many students, hard as they try.

PLAUSD - please focus on the students who have struggled, and are currently struggling, all the kids dropping out of WL even though they have made a good effort. Be ready to have a lot of data to make your case that WL works at PAUSD, including how many students go to outside vendors to fulfill the credit for college.

You just can't introduce a requirement as gigantic as this one without a really hard look at student's experience, the students who struggle. And without a re-write of the current options.

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 21, 2013 at 2:35 pm

For the 10 millionth time - Melissa Baten Caswell HAS a child in the District!!!

As far as the WL grad requirement, PAUSD is working towards aligning the graduation requirements with the CSU/UC requirements. That said, at least at Paly, they have a LOT of work to do in World Languages to ensure that all the kids can pass 1 and 2. As it is now, if you pass the first class with a "C" they don't consider you ready to move on to 2 (they will let you, but the teachers will tell you that you won't be prepared).

Taking classes outside of PAUSD is usually allowed, the exceptions seem to be things that are State grad requirements (and classes where the ego of the Department Head gets in the way).

Posted by Remember this, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 21, 2013 at 4:34 pm

Not everyone is able to learn a foreign language. My son, who had frequent ear infections from 4 mos of age to 5 years of age, had speech problems as a result. His father and I have always been linguistically gifted, but our son could not learn Spanish or any other language he attempted, and he badly wanted to learn Spanish. He studied hard, listened to Spanish language radio and TV stations, took immersion classes on weekends and had a tutor. No luck, his brain just was not wired for it. A neurologist told us it may have been tied to all the hearing problems he had at such a critical age in language development, and PAUSD exempted him from the language requirement.

And, yes, he did go to college: Foothill and then Davis.

Posted by the world language "elective", a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 21, 2013 at 4:44 pm

Remember this,

Such a situation like your son's would likely merit an accommodation.

Generally speaking though - talking about the rest of the population - you work a requirement in a way which allows students to succeed.

Like with any subject, success comes from an early start, an appropriate curriculum, and not to forget, good teachers, and appropriately class size.

Many WL classes at PAUSD are huge, when smaller is better. Maybe two lanes......

Posted by C, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 21, 2013 at 6:10 pm

About the WL requirement: It's part of the district's plan to align to UC standards and 2 years of language are required (but 3 recommended) to apply to a UC/CSU. @Remember this: Paly offers sign language. I know a few kids who had trouble with languages (one with dyslexia, for example: (s)he had problems recognizing new words and learning a new spelling system but is doing fine in sign language. The one downside to the class is that since there aren't that many kids enrolled, sign language 2 & 3 are often compressed into one class). @World language elective "Many WL classes at PAUSD are huge, when smaller is better. Maybe two lanes" -- Spanish and French, the most popular, both lane by year 3 (3 vs 3H) and I cannot recall whether Japanese or Mandarin lane out although I think they don't.

"If they take the option to outsource WL credit away, and make WL a graduation requirement, it will be terrible."
I doubt they'll do that. Generally speaking, though, Paly grants off-campus study for classes which either a) have a scheduling conflict or b) aren't offered at Paly in much greater numbers than those of kids who just want to take a class away from Paly. I know that APUSH, for example, is rarely given because the history department recognizes the APUSH class at Paly is generally more rigorous than other off-campus classes.

Posted by Candy Bowl Hunger, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 21, 2013 at 7:37 pm

C, are you familiar with the Charlotte school system (North Carolina, that is)? They also offer sign language in high school. I think that's also true of the Lowell (MA) public schools.

Posted by Candy Bowl Hunger, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 21, 2013 at 7:39 pm

Also Newport Beach -- at least they did a long while ago.

Posted by MK, a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Apr 22, 2013 at 12:26 pm

What about taking four electives in two years giving child opportunity to explore and take language course online from accredited school over two summers to have year one language requisite of high school fulfilled

Posted by Mom , a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 22, 2013 at 2:23 pm

@MK: If a student already knows a language, he can take a test prior to high school and see if he can be admitted into the Spanish 2, French 2, etc. and bypass the Spanish 1A & 1B (or other language)in middle school. I think some kids even test into third year language classes.

Posted by palo alto parent, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 22, 2013 at 4:31 pm

MK - I have yet to hear of any PAUSD student being granted credit for an online course and given the attitude at Paly of allowing students to take classes outside of PAUSD, it may be hard to get permission to take a language class online. St. Francis (in Mountain View) offers Spanish over the summer, it seems to be easy to get permission for that.

Posted by Mom, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 22, 2013 at 9:20 pm

St. Francis offers classes for high school students, not middle school students. I don't think MK cares about the credit for the classes. The whole point is to get the student to begin high school world language at an advanced level, as if the child took world language classes in middle school. So if the online class can prepare the child enough to be able to test into a second year world language class, then MK's plan will work. However, an online course is no way the same as taking world language in our schools so it's questionable that the student would pass a test to proceed onto a second year world language class after working online. It's better to just take the class in school.