About 75 Stevens Creek Elementary School children and their parents greeted Gov. Sonny Perdue as he arrived at Savannah Rapids Pavilion for the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce post-legislative breakfast Tuesday.
They were not part of the program.
The families lined Evans to Locks Road to protest the governor's funding cut to the school's popular foreign language program.
As the children held signs and chanted, "Save our Spanish," the governor responded with a smile and a wave as his white Lincoln Navigator continued past.
"They absorb it like sponges, and this is the age to start. You wouldn't start teaching the students math in high school if you want them to be good at it," Olga Biancheri, a Spanish teacher at Stevens Creek, said before the governor arrived.
Apparently, the Columbia County Board of Education agrees.
The board included an additional expenditure of $142,984 for the program in its 2007-08 budget Tuesday. The funding will allow the program to continue for at least one more year.
This should be good news to pupils, who spoke highly of the program while they waited for the governor to arrive.
"At first I didn't really want to learn another language because I thought it would be too hard. But it was a lot of fun," said Christopher Preheim, 10, a rising sixth-grader who took Spanish at Stevens Creek. "And now I want to take other languages."
Anne Morgan, 10, a rising fifth-grader at Stevens Creek, has put her foreign language skills to use outside the classroom.
"It really helped to take Spanish because we just went on a trip to Mexico," she said.
Under the state's 2007-08 budget, in which Perdue reallocated $1.6 million in state general funds for foreign language programs to all elementary schools, Stevens Creek will receive $1,200 for foreign language materials.
Last year, the school, which was one of 29 elementary schools in the state to get foreign language funding, received a $120,000 state grant for the program.
Steven Weiss and his daughter Ishana Ratan, 10, a rising fifth-grader at Stevens Creek, said the hour they spent waiting for Perdue was well-spent.
"The governor needs to see that parents are very upset. This has been a very successful program. To cut something like this sends the wrong message to the children," Weiss said.
Ishana was afraid the governor might have misinterpreted their reason for being there because he did not stop and talk to the protesters.
"He might have just thought, 'That's great. They love me.' He should have come out and discussed with us why we want to keep Spanish," she said.
Perdue told the audience at the breakfast that he reallocated the foreign language funding because he did not want all of the money going to just a few schools.
He also said he appreciated the demonstrators' passion and supported their right to protest.
"I miss those folks since the flaggers have gone away," he said to laughter from the crowd.
News Editor Preston Sparks contributed to this story.
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