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Academy gets thumbs-up after its first year

Hall County may replicate foreign language program in other schools

POSTED: June 22, 2009 11:20 p.m.
SCOTT ROGERS/The Times

Brothers Hayden, right, 10, and Nathan, 7, Shedd walk along a rock wall Monday afternoon at the Sterling on the Lake amphitheater. The two attend Hall County's World Language Academy. Many other residents at Sterling on the Lake are embracing the dual language opportunities the school provides.

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The World Language Academy survived its first school year and has earned glowing reports from parents, educators and students alike.

The World Language Academy on Winder Highway opened in August as Hall County school system’s first charter school and first school of choice.

The school may be a sign of things to come in the area.

Some parents felt the mission of the Spanish-English dual language immersion program was important enough to shuttle their kids across Hall County to school each day, while other parents hung back to see how the first year went before enrolling their children.

Students at the World Language Academy also receive some instruction in Mandarin Chinese.

David Moody is the director of elementary education for Hall County schools and served as principal during the World Language Academy’s first year. He said parents have shown a strong interest in the World Language Academy and the Hall County system hopes to provide more dual language opportunities for parents.

“At the informational sessions, I was surprised at how many people there were,” he said.

But once the program got off the ground, Moody said he wasn’t surprised to see more parents clamoring for dual language programs.

As a result, Hall County is opening dual language pre-K programs at Chicopee Woods, Martin and Sardis elementary schools and at the World Language Academy in August. Eighty students already are enrolled in the programs and administrators have started a waiting list.

“There’s been interest throughout the system and we felt like opening the four around the county would open up opportunities for others,” Moody said. “... That’s a big part — that we’re not forcing it on people — it’s a choice.”

Mai Shedd, mother of two boys who attended the World Language Academy this past school year, said she and several other Sterling on the Lake families are very pleased with the World Language Academy.

Shedd said she enjoys the quality teachers at the school, as well as the high parent involvement on campus.

“We were the guinea pigs, and I definitely think it’s a great opportunity,” she said. “I think a lot of people are saying, ‘Oh, I wish I had sent my kid there now,’ after they’ve seen how well our kids are doing. But now there’s a waiting list.”

Moody said there’s a waiting list for the academy with at least 50 students on it.

Shedd said although many parents want their children to have a bilingual education in public schools, she understands there may be many parents who do not value language education as an asset to their child’s future.

Some parents, she said, may have qualms with thrusting their child into an environment where foreign languages are spoken.

But Shedd said her rising fifth-grader, Hayden Shedd, quickly adjusted to the Spanish-English instruction format. Shedd said she plans also to enroll her 3-year-old daughter in one of Hall County’s four new dual-language pre-K programs once she’s old enough.

Hayden, who attended Friendship Elementary before enrolling at the World Language Academy, said he liked his old school but enjoys the cultural food and holiday celebrations at the academy. He said because his teachers used pictures to help him understand new words in Spanish and Chinese, he was able to understand what they were saying.

Heather Heard, mother of a rising third-grader at the World Language Academy, said the school is “awesome.”

“We’re so happy,” she said. “I don’t think that you can speak enough languages, and they’re sponges at this point.”

Heard, who said she is bilingual and speaks Spanish, believes it’s important for her child to learn foreign languages in an increasingly interconnected society.

She said she anticipated that her son, Jason Heard, may have some trouble adjusting to the school, but he performed well on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, which is the state’s standardized test.

“His grades were still up to par and his CRCTs — he blew them out of the water,” Heard said. “And we were a little concerned with him learning three languages at once, but he did very well with his reading and writing in English on the CRCT. He did very well in all subjects.”

Shedd said the same of her two children.

Moody said the academy’s first year will go down in the history books as a great one.

“I think it was extremely successful in all ways, really, from the academic performance but also with the community getting involved,” he said. “And the overall excitement about learning, it’s amazing how it’s motivated children and families to get excited about coming to school.”

Moody said in all areas the school made “Adequate Yearly Progress” as defined by No Child Left Behind. He said school leaders are now determining how well the school met its charter school goals.

Language classes also are catching on at other schools.

Gainesville schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said a “Spanish Experience Program” will be implemented at Enota Multiple Intelligences Academy this fall. And Fair Street IB World School will continue with its “Spanish Language Direct” daily instruction and weekly Mandarin Chinese and Vietnamese language programs.

Dyer said also the new Gainesville Middle School is being equipped with technology to offer Gainesville High School language courses to middle students through virtual school capability.



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