BENNINGTON -- What do the Russian language and Harry Potter have in common? Each is the focus of a new high school course approved by the Mount Anthony Union school board to be offered next school year.
"Introduction to Russian" is a designed to be a half-credit, short-block class in which students will learn basic structures of the Russian language, Cyrillic alphabet and basic vocabulary. The class, similar to an existing "Introduction to Italian" class, will develop the fundamentals of the four language skills: reading, writing, listening and speaking, as well as an understanding of the culture of Russia and the former Soviet Union, according to a class description given to the school board Monday.
During Monday’s Education Committee meeting, student representative to the school board Griffin Thomas, who has taken the Italian class, described its focus as a way to teach students enough to get around, survive, and communicate with people if they were to visit Italy.
A taste of Russian
The course is not intended to be an introduction to a full-fledged Russian program at the school, although MAU Chairwoman Sean-Marie Oller pointed out that if students get a taste of Russian and then wish to continue learning the language there are opportunities outside of the high school.
The high school is still trying to arrange whether the class can be offered because it was proposed by middle school foreign language teacher Tatyana Case. Case has taught classes at the high school in the past but to do so will require a break in her middle school class schedule and a time the class can be offered at the high school. High school Principal Sue Maguire said scheduling the class is already being discussed with Case and middle school Principal Tim Payne.
Russian was just one of five short-block classes approved by the board for next school year. The others are "Introduction to Public Speaking," "Harry Potter: Literary and Mythological Origins," "Reading and Writing for College," and "Hispanic Culture Through Holidays and Feasts."
In recent months area schools have begun a greater collaboration with business leaders and among other things businesses have told school administrators is they need a workforce that has soft skills as well as core academic skills.
"(Public speaking) is part of those soft skills employers are talking about," Maguire said during Monday’s Education Committee meeting prior to presenting the proposed classes to the entire school board.
The class will also focus on skills that will help a person throughout their life. According to the class description students will practice numerous types of public speaking that may include college or job interviews, debates, panel discussions, persuasive techniques, plays, sales pitches, story telling, toasts and many more.
Speaking is already included in grading rubrics in other classes, although Maguire said a course dedicated specifically to public speaking has not been offered before.
Public speaking is an expectation in the Common Core State Standards, which takes affect in Vermont in 2013.
"Harry Potter: Literary and Mythological Origins" will promote classical literature while incorporating contemporary works. It will explore archetypal texts, as well as the multi-media phenomenon while drawing from sources such as Jane Austen, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and Dorothy Sayers.
"Reading and Writing for College" is intended primarily for students who wish to prepare for the advanced placement exam in English but also motivated juniors and seniors who want to continue the development of critical reading and writing skills beyond what is already offered.
"Hispanic Culture Through Holidays and Feasts" will give students insight into the culture of Spanish speaking countries by focusing on holidays and feasts such as Day of the Dead, Cinco de Mayo, Semana Santa, the Running of the Bulls and others.
Each new class is expected to be offered next school year. Different short-block classes are offered every semester based on student interest so the new courses could be offered some years but not others to offer students a variety of courses to chose from each semester. Maguire said classes generally require 10 students to run.
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