In some Washington elementary schools there were bingo games last year, with the teacher calling out the lucky numbers in Latin.
In others, students cooked tacos and chili - from recipes written in Spanish, an only got to eat the food if they asked the right Spanish questions.
Some kindergarten children learned the parts of their bodies in French - at the same time they were making sure what the different parts are called in English.
On Wednesday when fall classes begin, the foreign language program in Washington's elementary schools will be practically gone - a casualty of layoff notices that 19 of its 32 teachers received when they reported for work last week.
Altogether the Washington school system told 70 tenured teachers that they will lose their jobs Sept. 30. Besides those who teach, Spanish, French, and Latin in elementary schools, the teachers laid off include 18 in elementary music, 10 in art, seven physical education teachers, and smaller numbers in business, shop, and home economics. At least two of those fired have worked for the D.C. school system 17 years.
School officials said the layoffs had to be made because of a cut in teaching positions, imposed by the city government as student enrollment has dropped. They said they decided to cut out the types of teachers that they believe the school system needs least as it develops a new curriculum that stresses basic skills.
"When it's absolutely necessary to pare down, you just can't carry on the payroll excess baggage," said James T. Guines, the deputy superintendent for instruction. "What we got into was a situation like the railroads - featherbedding - and you can't ask the taxpayers to support that."
"We can't get burned if kids don't draw well or can't appreciate sculpture," Guines continued. "We will get burned if the kids can't read or do math and science. That's what really matters. These other things are nice little luxuries."
Guines said the three years of foreign language instruction offerred in high school is "adequate preparation for what students need in college."
"Our students don't need complete fluency," he said. "Even if you go abroad now, you don't need a language. The dollar speaks louder than anything."
But those who teach foreign languages heatedly deny they are unneeded.
"Our children can't just be learning English and math all day," said Neva Roberts, a Latin teacher at Bunker Hill and Rudolph elementary schools who was fired after nine years in the school system. "There has to be more to education than just that. If you just ate meat and potatoes all the time, it would become so boring. Besides, I can teach things in Latin that they wouldn't get in English - vocabulary building. 'Oh. I know English,' all the children say. 'I speak it,' an they don't pay attention. When you approach things through the foreign language, they get excited, they do pay attention."
"The D. C. school system says it's trying to attract some people back to the public schools," said Barbara Bennett, a Spanish teacher at La Salle Elementary who has taught for 17 years in the city's school system. Only way you can get people to come is to offer them something good, and now we're talking something good away."
Actually, the foreign language program in grade schools has been dwindling for the past five years. Since 1974, it has had no systemwide director, and its teachers has had no meetings for the past two years.
"All the teachers were left on their own," said Lester F O'Brien, a Latin teacher at H. D. Cooke Elementary School. "We had to fend for ourselves." But the teachers and students in our schools want us."
Many of the foreign language teachers - along with those in music and art - have been sifted often from school to school to help the D.C. school board stay in compliance with Judge J. Skelly Wright's 1971 equal-spending spree. Because the attendance figures used for utilization usually have not been ready until late fall, some of the teachers said they don't get regular assignments until November or December. One teacher said she spent two months last fall answering phones and filing in a school office before she was told when to teach children.
When Washington's elementary foreign language program started in 1959, it was one of many such efforts that sprang up throughout the country as part of the toughening of American education that followed the launching of Russia'a Sputnik satellite.
The program grew throughout the 1960s and by 1971 it was offered in about three-quarters of the city's elementary schools. Its former director, Judith LeBovit, emphasized Latin, and she saw the program not mainly as something extra for high-achieving children but as a way to raise achievement where general academic levels were low.
A study by the school system's research office in 1971 reported that sixth graders who had foreign language instruction made greater gains in reading English than those who did not. The Latin students, it said, did better than those taking Spanish and French.
But the 1971 study was the only ever made in the program's 17-year history.
Mrs. Roberts said the best way to organize the language teaching is to give 20-minutes lessons every day, so students can steadily learn small amounts of the language.
This format was usually followed until several years ago. Recently the lessons in many schools became more sporadic as principals arranged for all their students to have at least one or two lessons a week - an arrangement that some of the language teachers believe was adopted to give free periods to more classroom teachers.
Several suburban school systems also started grade school foreign language programs aroung 1960 but all dropped them because of budget problems several years ago. (Montgomery County still has an after-school program paid by the parents).
Even though the D.C. school board never voted formally to cut back on foreign languages, art, and music, its vice president, Carol Schwartz, said members reached a "consensus" that the subjects had a relatively low priority.
The city's elementary schools still have 71 music teachers, even after the layoffs, 104 gym teachers, and 48 in art.
"The administration and board wouldn't do any of this by choice," Mrs. Schwartz said about the layoffs. "It's purely a matter of dollars and cents."