Washington high schools falling behind on foreign language requirements for college

SEATTLE, Wash. -- This week, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan released a plan to support early childhood education, but a big change is already coming to Washington High Schools.

Starting in 2019, high school students will have to take two credits of a world language to graduate.

Right now, there’s no state mandate on foreign languages.  But most four-year colleges have strict admissions requirements that include taking multiple years of foreign language.

That’s why a new study says Washington is one of 46 states with some graduation requirements that don’t match up with being college-ready.

The sounds of Spanish music and the Spanish language fill the room at Vamonos Spanish Center in Wallingford.

“Habla Espanol? La mochila es tuya?” asked Spanish language student Mary Campbell.

Mary Campbell has been working on her Spanish for the past few years.

“With Spanish now I hear it every day. I commute on the bus I work downtown. Wherever I am I always hear it,” said Campbell

But when she was in high school nearly a decade ago…

“When I was in high school, I think we had a one-year requirement and I took sign language,” said Campbell.

Now Washington High School students will have to get two credits or world language – not necessarily Spanish – to graduate.  But it might be too late to start if you ask Vamonos Spanish Center owner and teacher Amanda Reichert.

“The requirements need to come earlier in middle school or even elementary school in order to make it successful so when they get to high school they have that desire,” said Reichert.

That’s why immersion schools and pre-K bilingual schools in Spanish, Mandarin, French, and German are popping up across the area, but many of those are private institutions with hefty tuition costs.

“In order to be successful, you need a really strong program and Seattle is just not there yet,” said Reichert.

Reichert says Bellevue has a pretty successful program within its schools and Seattle could learn from that.  But because Washington state hasn’t had a mandate on foreign language, it’s been up to each district to create its own requirements and then it’s up to each student to do more to get into college.

“It would’ve given me an advantage, but it’s nice to have a challenge to tackle as an adult, too,” said Campbell.

While kids might goof off, Reichert says adults are serious about the benefits of being bilingual.

“I have a lot of people that travel.  They want to be able to support Spanish speakers who are here now.  A lot of people are using Spanish for work now,” said Reichert.

While Washington state high schools don’t have college readiness standards for foreign language, it more than prepares students in other areas including science.