A View from Here: The Value of World Language at Manchester-Essex


As the May 23rd Manchester-Essex School Committee public hearing has come to an end, I continue to think back to the passionate support from high school students, teachers, and Manchester-Essex residents in favor of the FY24 MERSD Budget, which has many proposed ramifications which they all oppose in one way or another.

One of the main issues argued for was the continuation of the world language program, as many noted their experiences and benefits with the program.  In the proposed budget, the phased elimination of French, which includes imminent elimination in grades 7-9, drew a bulk of the concern, both with the Manchester-Essex public as well as myself.  

As a current Spanish student and junior at Manchester-Essex Regional High School, it initially doesn’t seem that I will be heavily impacted by the proposed cuts to the world language program.  I plan on taking AP Spanish Literature in my senior year, so I’d imagine that any French students who would have to convert to Spanish would be in an honors or CP class. However, the potential consequences could easily impact those in my family.  I have siblings in 10th and 7th Grade, who each are currently enrolled in a Spanish program, who, while they wouldn’t have to change their own classes, they could be placed into classes with students who were previously enrolled in French.  I could easily see the French students, at no fault of their own, either struggle to keep up with the curriculum or be generally uninterested in the course, as it simply wasn’t the one they originally intended.  Aside from having to learn new verbs and vocabulary, there are certainly students who love French culture, which has been revealed during previous classes. 

While I haven’t taken French myself, I’ve heard from various students and teachers that there has been many aspects of French culture, which was noted to be truly worldwide during the public hearing, and that it is spoken as the national or official language in 29 different countries worldwide.  The intercultural perspectives, which have become increasingly important in an ever more interconnected world, are truly crucial to maintain.  I’d sympathize with all of the current younger students as well as future students who would not have the autonomy to choose which secondary language they would like to pursue. 

Thanks to the already imposed French cutoff in elementary schools, there has been an increase in the popularity of Spanish in middle school, as students feel it is much more logical to continue with the language they have already been learning for the past number of years, unwilling to restart a new language.  Even the gap of progress between 6th grade Spanish and French classes wouldn’t be as large as the possible gap of progress as that of high school students who would be forced to enter Spanish classes after their new classmates have already been studying the language for years. 

The perspective of support is one that is commonly shared throughout the community at the school. Manchester-Essex High School Spanish teacher Mr. Bilsbury feels passionately that the world language department as a whole is crucial to continue.  He explained, “I feel cautiously optimistic that we will get support for the budget from the town of Essex,” hoping that Essex residents will understand the weight of their vote if the opportunity is presented to them following the School Committee decision of which proposed budget will be sent to the towns, as he feels Essex voters didn’t truly know what was at stake when they voted.  

Mr. Bilsbury, who has a son at the middle school, explained that he would be saddened if his son would not have the opportunity to choose between either Spanish or French throughout his time at the Manchester-Essex District. 

With the diversification of language options for Manchester-Essex students, the current curriculum has proven itself successful for students in either Spanish or French.  This has given students like myself the opportunity to select whichever course they find the truest interest and passion in, instead of being forced to switch their desired language or not having the opportunity to choose one at all.  The proposed budget cuts will diminish students’ learning and growth, all with a future of cultural understanding, increased career opportunities, and success in an ever more interconnected world ahead.

Paul Coughlin is a junior at MERSD who lives in Manchester, is working toward Eagle Scout, and is working on a Civic Action project about World Language for AP U.S. History.

essex, massachusetts, manchester, 1st millennium, manchester-essex regional high school, school committee, manchester-essex district, world language department, bilsbury, teacher, manchester-essex school committee