Kids are learning second languages from a young age at New Canaan's public schools.

Four years into a Foreign Language in the Elementary Schools program, which begins in kindergarten, the district has seen a tangible difference in the language abilities of its students.

"We are so there. And it's so exciting," Lizette D'Amico, K-8 World Language and K-12 English as a Second Language coordinator said, speaking of FLES at the May 6 Board of Education meeting.

One of the results of the program is that the district must now rewrite the foreign language curriculum for students in higher grades. For instance, fourth-graders who have taken a language since kindergarten are now much more proficient and would not find the previous curriculum challenging.

Mandarin was added as a language offered at Saxe Middle School this year. Thirty-six sixth-graders, 28 seventh-graders and 17 eighth-graders have enrolled to learn the official language and most popular language of China's nearly 300. China's economy became the second largest in the world in 2010, and its economy, measured by gross domestic product, grew by between 8 and 14 percent annually since 2000.

A global perspective has become part of the district's outlook in recent years. On its 2013-14 budget documents, the district included "global citizenship" as one of its foremost expectations and aspirations.

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At the high school level, Chinese ranks last in enrollment out of the four language options, with only about 6 percent of students enrolled in a foreign language at the high school taking it. Spanish is the most popular language, with roughly 70 percent of students who take foreign language enrolled.

But not enough kids are taking languages in their senior year, according to New Canaan High School Language Department Chairman Lisa Arbues. While around 90 percent of ninth- through 11th-graders are enrolled in foreign language, that number drops to the low 40s by senior year.

"Most students say, `Sorry ... I'm doubling up in math, I'm doubling up in physics,'" Arbues said.

Board of Education members Penny Rashin and Alison Bedula suggested bringing back former students who continued with language in college to explain how sticking with it could help seniors down the road.

"Any of us who have had sophomores and juniors know they can't look past their toes at some points," Bedula joked, adding that hearing about the value of foreign language from their peers might be more useful than hearing it from teachers.

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