Low enrollment impacts language department offerings

Erica Block

As the 2023 school year comes to a close and students look forward to the following year, a group of students and teachers have voiced frustration with recent course changes that reduce their choice in language elective offerings. At the end of February 2023, Redwood adjusted its language department offerings, removing French 7-8 and Advanced Placement (AP) Spanish Literature for the 2023-2024 school year due to decreased enrollment from students. This decision has been a topic of discussion for the past year as there has been a trend of declining student enrollment, with the classes failing to reach the 30 student quota necessary to fund them. Many students have been forced to reroute their elective paths at Redwood, looking to College of Marin (COM) and other educational platforms to continue advancing in their respective languages. 

The upper-level French classes were the first to be cut, as enrollment numbers were dwindling and teachers could not reach the numbers required for the class to continue. Nicolle Plescia, a French 5-6 teacher, emphasizes that the recent cuts undermine the work the French department has put in to build a program for students. 

I have been working hard to promote and create a robust French program, and if the school starts cutting the course offerings, it takes away from that. For students who signed up for French 1 as ninth graders, they should have the option to take it all the way through [senior year]. … I feel personally invested in these students so it makes me sad for them,” Plescia said. 

For some who are finishing up French 8 this semester, it is disappointing to see their current program cut for future students. Junior Natalie Poncet is currently enrolled in French 8 and emphasizes the role learning French has played in her high school experience.   

“It makes me really upset to think [that] the people who are in [French] 5-6 right now [won’t] have the opportunity to keep [learning in] an incredible class, unless they really make the effort. Many people find it too difficult to go to College of Marin to take class, so they just stop learning [the language] all together,” Poncet said. 

Poncet emphasizes that French 8 nurtured a sense of community and cultural learning for students in her class. 

“It’s like a family because there aren’t that many students who take French, so you know all the people who do it very well and therefore everyone is so much more comfortable speaking in class and talking. Because of that, it is a safe learning environment, in ways better than a lot of my other classes. I feel like I have gotten really close with every single student, especially in 7-8 because everyone wants to be there and wants to try,” Poncet said. 

Poncet noted that it is the small size of the French program that gives it so much depth. However, this program’s small size resulted in the French department receiving less attention or recognition.

Relaxing on a bench in the quad, juniors in French 7-8 collaborate on their dialogue project.

The feelings of disappointment from the French department have been shared by other language classes which have also borne the brunt of the recent changes. 

María Fernanda Civano, teacher of Spanish for Spanish speakers 1-2, AP Spanish Language and Culture and Spanish 3-4, shares a similar sentiment regarding the recent cuts made in the language department, specifically the recent cut of AP Spanish Literature. Civano vocalized that the reductions in the language department are part of a greater topic of equity within the school. 

“We are at a loss of why [these class cuts are] happening from the standpoint of equity to begin with. The district is doing a lot of work with equity and anti-racism with the teacher and task force committees, so for me, [offering AP Spanish Literature] is one of the ways you can show what you are doing,” Civano said. “AP Spanish Literature is a rigorous course that someone who may not know that much English, or can’t access other courses as easily, can attend. This class is important for many of those students for validating their identity and doing something they will be good at, or being surrounded by like-minded people.”

Civano points out that AP Spanish Literature offers a unique opportunity compared to AP Spanish Language and Culture, as it focuses more on Latinx authors and significant countries and eras in the culture. 

“[AP Spanish Literature] is a super culturally charged course. It is important in the [current divided] world to learn how to appreciate different cultures in a way that is appropriate and valuable. [Teachers] can provide that in these advanced classes,” Civano said. 

The reduction of these classes frustrates those who feel as if it goes against one of the key aspects of Redwood’s mission in building well-rounded students. 

“It’s frustrating. We are trying to make a difference. If we are trying to make a difference and provide students with the best experience they can have to become ‘global citizens,’ then we need to give them the tools to do that. This is an investment. You invest in the students and the ‘why’ of this school,” Civano said.

Both Civano and Plescia observe that the reduction goes beyond simply not being able to take French or Spanish. 

“I hope that everyone will consider that there are a lot of different layers to the [new changes.] [The reduction is significant] in the perspective of electives in general, not just language. We want kids to have a varied experience in high school. I think it’s important to give kids the choices they want. Especially in language, because I believe in [learning a] language so much,” Plescia said.