Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Language Academy

This morning, I went to the public K-8 language academy open house. I know I've mentioned it before, but to repeat myself, our local elementary school is one of the worst in the county. WOOHOO! The middle school after it is pretty bad, too. And the high school after that is not known for being the top in the county.

So we're looking. Today was the first open house and I was pretty impressed. The building itself is nothing to get excited over (which is important to many folks around here). It's 50 years old. But it has some of the highest test scores in the county and, well, I don't know, the kids learn another language.

And I don't mean "learn" another language like I learned French in high school. I mean starting the first moment of the first day of kindergarten, they are immersed in their language track. Even on the first day, the teachers speak no English but they do a lot of pantomiming.

We toured a kindergarten class in each of the four languages: Chinese, Japanese, French and German. Holy Freaking Cow. These children were exposed to the language for the first time at the end of August. And maybe it's because I could understand enough of the German and French, but the Chinese and Japanese classes blew me (and the other parents) out of the water. Kids in all the classes were completely understanding and responding to the teacher in their language track. They were all doing math, singing, spelling, just doing all this amazing kindergarten stuff....in another language. Wow. Seriously, the students in the Chinese class were doing something with math that just made my jaw drop. I know I'm hormonal, but it was amazing.

What a gift we feel we could give Conor, even if he does not choose to use it in a career. How amazing to be completely fluent in another language. At this point, we're debating between French and German. I speak some French and I think that if our children knew French and English, they could go anywhere in this world. However, we have good friends in Germany and we will likely visit with them and hopefully vacation with them (in Spain! long story). In addition, there is a German family right across the street from us.

In all honesty, I would be thrilled if the kids started in one of these languages and then picked up the other in the 5th grade (also an option). Seriously. WOW. This is a free option for us here in Charlotte, NC. Pretty dang cool.

That said, we are also going to see an International Baccalaureate, a Montessori, and a traditional elementary school. But this was amazing.

Oh, and thanks for yesterday's comments and friendings (speaking of France), :-) . Like Carter, my identities bleed on each other. And I appreciate Matt's thoughts about posting links. Now that I've fixed my FB problems, I can do that with interesting stuff. But do I friend our Dean on FB? I'd love to, but I think she'd think I was a wingnut.

Back to the subject, are your schools as whacked as this? Do you have to search for a school or can you just go to the one closest to you?


T. Carter said...

Celeste is in kindergarten at the local elementary school. We are in one of the bottom two school systems in the D.C. area, but I have hope for this school. The teachers are very engaged (the three kindergarten classes are being treated as a cohort instead of three separate classes and they're doing some mixing up of classtime to get a greater number of kids with equal reading skills, for instance, together for at least part of the day), and we're working to be very involved with the school -- Evelin's volunteering in the classroom; I'm trying to make sure I'm active in the PTA -- as are several of our friends with kids in the school or planning to send kids there in the coming years. We're trying to make sure it's as good of a school as possible both for our kids and others. We're also lucky that there are more than a few other like-minded folk who are working to make the school look more like the entire community. That said, Celeste hates that she has to wear a uniform and it's a long day for her, but she seems to be doing well there. And as a Title 1 school, there are a lot of resources so-called "better perfoming" schools wouldn't have (extra reading resource teachers, for instance).

Still, we're hoping she can get into the public French-immersion program next year (entry is usually via lottery, but we're hoping to use a test-in loophole to get her into first grade there) for the reasons you mention here -- having that level of language experience is something that would be invaluable later in life ... although I'm worried about having to get my piss-poor French up to a level where I could help with homework.

Long, rambling, but to answer your questions: Yes our schools are that whack, but we are going to the one closest to us ... even if there is a hope that we'll be in a different school next year solely for the language experience.

Our Horse Curly said...

Living in a small town doesn't give us the number of options that you seem to have. Our schools are only average, but by being involved (PTA, classroom volunteer and now employee) I think we've managed to do okay by our girls. Since they are both bright, they often don't get the extra time that some of the lower achieving students get - but I understand the dilemma that the schools face and the need to devote so many resources to that portion of the student body. So I've begun to look at our system as an "a la carte" menu of sorts and have considered a mix of traditional classroom, homeschooling and gifted program offerings to make sure my girls get all that they need. Luckily, the district is fairly flexible and will support us as we pick and choose among the different programs and build an education plan for our children. They've even allowed home schooling for some subjects and regular school for others - which is great when you want to challenge your child but also make sure they get all that social stuff too.

But it is all work. I feel like I am sometimes one of those dreaded helicopter parents.

Anonymous said...

I live in suburban NY. We use the local elementary school and chose our home based on the district. We are happy so far. We have no option for any language immersion but they do teach Spanish starting in kindergarten. There are no language choices. I don't think other districts start the language so early. My middle boy's preschool is teaching Spanish as well and that's a private, Catholic school so it must just be a district thing.