2007 Graduate Brian Gay Advocates for Middle School Foreign Languages


Sydney Gillis

The Foreign Language department celebrates the opening of the new language lab.


In recent weeks, The Rebellion has been inundated with letters from alumni advocating for Foreign Languages in the middle school. Every Monday a letter will be posted from an alum. The following is by Brian Gay, a member of Walpole High’s Class of 2007. Brian graduated from Providence College last year and is currently looking to work in France as a teaching assistant.


It was recently brought to my attention that Walpole’s foreign language program is currently facing the threat of budget cuts that would eliminate entirely the middle school foreign language program. I found this news very upsetting. I am writing this letter to urge current students, their families, and all those who appreciate the value of Walpole’s foreign language program to take action and let the School Committee know that we don’t want the foreign language program to be cut from our middle schools.

I grew up in Walpole (my parents still live there) and I attended Bird Middle School (BMS) from 2000-2003. In the 6th grade, our classes followed a daily schedule. We had certain academic classes—such as math, science, ELA, and geography—Monday through Friday. Other classes, called “orbitals,” were held only on certain days of the week. Wednesday was my favorite day, because that was the day we got to go see Ms. Carbonneau, the foreign language teacher. We spent the first half of the year studying French, and the second half of the year studying Spanish. At the end of the year, we got to decide which language we preferred. Starting the next year, I began a new schedule, with a new regular class added to my former list—French.

My foreign language experience in middle school was exceptional. At the end of 6th grade, I had already mastered the alphabet in both French and Spanish. I was able to introduce myself, ask someone how they were doing, and tell my age. I knew the colors, the months of the year, and how to appropriately greet someone at different times of day. In 7th grade, we were given text books from which to study further vocabulary, as well as to learn about the cultures of various Francophone nations. We watched French videos in class, listened to French music, and celebrated the French holidays. At the end of the year, we had the opportunity to visit a French restaurant in the South End of Boston, where we were able to practice ordering in French. In eigth grade we continued our study of the French language and culture, taking our long anticipated voyage au Quebec, where we spent the weekend celebrating Carnaval and praciting our French with native speakers. I share this to show that the Walpole foreign language program was more than simply learning how to say different phrases in an unfamiliar tongue—it was also exposure to a different culture, done in a way that excited me and my fellow classmates and encouraged us to learn more about life outside of Walpole.

Nostalgia aside, beginning foreign language study in middle school is essential for a student’s later success in this discipline. If I had not been exposed to French and Spanish in sixth grade, I would not have been able to determine which was the better fit for me for the following two years. Furthermore, those two years of French that I took prior to attending Walpole High prepared me for my high school studies and kept me on track so that I could evenutally take French V and study for the AP Exam. If Foreign Language is eliminated from the middle schools, students will no longer have the option of taking the AP Exams in French or Spanish. This then goes on to affect the students college career —it was because of the level of my French studies in high school that I was able to forgo taking introductory French courses at the college level, and was able to take conversation and literature courses instead. A student who had not taken Foreign Language in high school will be behind from day one, losing the opportunity to be exposed to and learn the language while they are at a Walpole school, instead paying up to $1,000 per credit at a university (2 years of intro French for free vs. one semester of intro French for $3,000). This continues to affect the student if they desire to make use of their Foreign Language skills for foreign study, or in their career.

My exposure to foreign language in middle school helped me immensely with my subsequent academic career. Because I had been exposed to Spanish in middle school, and had studied two years of French, by the time I was a freshman at Walpole High, I was prepared to not only take French classes, but also to take a Spanish class as well. My previous exposure to different concepts in the middle school program facilitated my starting a new language in my first year of high school. After graduating high school, I went on to study the Humanities at Providence Colllege, concentrating in French. I used my French and Spanish skills while interning in the city of Providence, and still ues both languages regularly today. I have been attending the International French Film festival in Providence this week, and used my Spanish today to help a client at my workplace to find a volunteer opportunity. Had I not begun my studies in middle school, I would not be where I am today, living in a bilingual neighborhood of a multi-lingual city, hoping to go to France next year to serve as a teaching assitstant.

There is so much more that could be said, and this letter is primarily written from a personal perspective, but realize that there is so much information that objectively supports keeping foreign language in the Walpole middle schools—actually it would suport expanding the program to the elementary schools, but I’ll leave that for another letter! In the meantime, those of you who are still students, take advantage of the program while you’re still there – you’ll wish you had when you’re gone!