In Voorhees, An Unfond Adieu To French The Board, Citing Low Enrollment, Voted Unanimously To Cancel The Middle School French Teacher's Contract.

Posted: April 11, 1994

French students at Voorhees Middle School will bid bonjour in June to French teacher Cheryl Aboloff, whose termination on June 30 will effectively eliminate French instruction from the school.

School board members voted unanimously to cancel Aboloff's contract at their March 21 meeting. Board member Gary Bennett said the action was a result of poor enrollment.

"There aren't enough students expressing interest to continue the program," Bennett said.

Next year, the school's students will be able to take only Spanish as a foreign language, although they still will be able to enroll in French classes at Eastern Regional High School.

But in the past, a school official said, studying French at the middle school enabled students to take advanced language classes at Eastern Regional or to take three years of one foreign language and two years of another before graduating.

"It's disappointing," Aboloff said recently from her Marlton home. ''You'll never have the huge numbers that you have in Spanish, (but) it's a shame they're giving up on it."

This year, 22 eighth-grade students are completing a full-year French I class at the middle school, and another 181 seventh and eighth graders are taking a partial-year, introductory French class, according to Voorhees Middle School Principal Samuel Citron.

Meanwhile, 64 eighth graders are filling three full-year sections of Spanish I and another 240 seventh and eighth graders are taking introductory Spanish, said Citron, who pointed out that the students must qualify to be invited to take the full-year courses.

Since the school began offering French I six years ago, enrollment has fallen consistently from an initial peak of about 34 students. Citron attributed the decline to parental pressure on students to take Spanish and to a public perception that Spanish is easier than French to learn.

Aboloff said she had heard from students whose parents were pressuring them to take Spanish with the hope that they would be better prepared for the job market.

Voorhees' decision to cut French came as no surprise to Fred Jenkins, executive director of the American Association of Teachers of French and

himself a teacher at the University of Illinois in Champaign.

Jenkins said he often gets phone calls from high school French teachers whose programs are in danger of being cut for similar reasons. They ask Jenkins to help them justify their programs to school administrators.

In response, the association has distributed about 200,000 copies of a brochure listing 45 countries that claim French as an official language. The association estimates there are about 125 million French-speaking people worldwide.

Despite the group's efforts, a 1990 survey by the Modern Language Association reveals a relative stability in French-class enrollment but a surge in Spanish-class enrollment at the university level over a four-year period.

That can be seen as a reflection of what has been happening at many secondary schools throughout the country, said Richard Brod, director of special programs for the Modern Language Association.

"Students who start a foreign language in high school have an incentive to continue this," said Brod, adding that "Spanish enrollments have been increasing faster than French enrollments for a long time."

In recent years, the New Jersey Department of Education has recorded a continuous and significant increase in the number of full-time Spanish teaching positions at the elementary- and secondary-school level.

There were 1,056 full-time Spanish teachers at the start of the 1991-92 school year, 1,274 at the start of the 1992-93 school year, and 1,323 at the start of the current school year, according to David Johnson, supervisor of the department's fall survey.

The number of full-time French teaching positions changed slightly, from 571 at the start of '91-92 to 538 at the start of '92-93 to 541 at the start of the current school year, Johnson said.

Aboloff, a six-year veteran of the school district, said she had expected to take a maternity leave next year but had hoped to return, maybe as soon as midyear.

Now not only will she lose her job, she said, but the school's students will lose something as well.

"They lose a lot of culture," she said, "and the right to choose."

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