-- When a high school in rural Maine could not find a foreign language instructor, school administrators decided to use the funds to purchase a language-learning computer program instead, the principal told ABC News today.
"We didn’t want to transfer the kids to another school just for foreign language," Jessica Ward, principal of Madison Area Memorial High School, told ABC News today.
Ward said the school put an ad in the paper and got one application for the teaching position, but that person ended up taking another job. Ward said she also contacted local universities and the state's department of education, who informed her that they were experiencing a shortage of foreign language teachers.
The school had the option of using technology that allows the students to virtually listen in on classes at another school, but Ward said she worried the students would not get the "individualized help that they need."
The school's guidance counselor then got the idea to reach out to Rosetta Stone, an interactive computer program for learning foreign languages. She used the allocated budget for hiring a teacher to pay for the Rosetta Stone licenses for students, and to bring in an education technician to oversee the program.
Ward said the school board approved the program, and it has been in place since the beginning of the school year. So far, "the student's seem to be enjoying it," she noted.
"They can go at their own pace," Ward said. They can choose from a myriad of foreign languages instead of just French and Spanish.
"We steered them towards the French and Spanish because we hope to get a teacher back in eventually," Ward said, but she added that some students still opted to take German, Russian and Japanese.
The State of Maine does not require foreign language classes to graduate high school, according to Ward, but she encourages her students to take language courses in high school because many universities want it.
The students are graded based on their progress by an education technician who has been trained by Rosetta Stone and has access to all of the student's accounts.
She said that although the program is going well so far, they are still hoping to hire a foreign language teacher. "I worry that they are missing out a bit on the cultural side," she acknowledged.
Jay Ketner, the World Languages Specialist for the Maine Department of Education, emphasized that decisions surrounding language curriculum made on the local level, but stressed how important learning a language is for students.
"As Madison’s ultimate goal is to have a teacher for this position, Rosetta Stone provides access for initial exposure to foreign language learning," Ketner told ABC News.
"Research shows that language learning provides multiple benefits for students that transfer directly to life and work including increased cognitive development, more focused attention, better problem-solving skills when a solution isn’t readily apparent, enhanced resourcefulness when solving problems, better financial-decision making skills as adults, and decreased rates of Alzheimer’s," Ketner said.
Ketner said schools across the nation are experiencing a shortage of foreign language teachers.
Tanya Mas, who works for the K-12 department of Rosetta Stone, told ABC News that the company has implemented Rosetta Stone programs in thousands of K-12 schools across the nation.
"We don't look at our product as a teacher replacement," Mas said.
"Similar to what you see in Maine, rural school districts are having trouble attracting talent to their school districts," Mas said, noting that schools districts have started to look for different methods of teaching languages, especially as a result of the nationwide language teacher shortage.