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Parents chip in to spruce up World Languages Academy
Mike Lesutis of Hoschton assembles a desk inside of a classroom as part of a clean up effort Saturday at the World Language Academy at Chestnut Mountain. Lesutis has a daughter who will start kindergarten in August at the school. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Although the old Chestnut Mountain Elementary School has been replaced with a sparkling new $13.2 million school building on Union Church Road, the 40-plus-year-old building will open its doors Aug. 7 for yet another year of learning.

The building will reopen this year as the World Language Academy at Chestnut Mountain, featuring a dual-language curriculum for its young students that aims to turn out bilingual, if not multilingual, students.

As the first charter school for the Hall County school system, the school’s mission is to immerse kindergartners and elementary school students in both the English and Spanish languages.

About 60 parents of soon-to-be World Language Academy students showed up at the old building Saturday with shovels and paint brushes in hand to spruce up the outside of the school while workers polish off renovations inside.

Principal David Moody said since school ended in June, workers have laid a new tile floor in the building, installed a new roof, rewaxed surfaces, updated computers and topped off renovations with new paint.

Parents set to work gardening, painting and dusting Saturday to make the school an inviting one when students arrive at morning summer camps Monday and Tuesday to prepare them for the new learning style.

Sabrina May, principal of the new Chestnut Mountain Elementary school, said the original Chestnut Mountain school has roots that go back to the late 19th century. For more than a century, the school has opened its doors for students to learn history, reading, writing and math. But this year, foreign languages will ring through the hallways as never before.

At the World Language Academy, 200 students in kindergarten and first grade will learn Spanish not as a foreign language, but as a language integrated into their daily academic studies, as well as during physical education, art and music classes.

This year, kindergartners and first-graders will spend half the day learning the Georgia Performance Standards curriculum in English and the other half of the day learning the curriculum in Spanish. The remaining 200 second- through fifth-graders at the school will receive two hours of instruction in Spanish each day. All students will have the option of taking a Mandarin Chinese class, which Moody calls the new language of the business world.

Roughly 400 students are enrolled at World Language Academy this fall, with 33 teachers in the classrooms, Moody said.

Although the dual-language curriculum is new to Hall County, Moody said it’s not a new concept to Georgia’s public education system.

"We spent a lot of time looking at other schools," he said. "...It’s our goal, in both English and Spanish, to develop the second language while developing and maintaining English. That is our No. 1 priority, for students to be at or above their grade level in English literacy."

Moody said the World Language Academy concept came to life in part because the building was vacated, but also due to parents’ requests for more foreign language opportunities within the school system.

"Anglo parents are asking, ‘Why aren’t we offering opportunities for our students to learn Spanish?’ This just seemed like the right thing for the first choice school and charter school," he said.

In addition to being the county’s first charter school, the World Language Academy is also the county’s first school of choice, allowing students from all over the county to attend the school with priority given to South Hall elementary schools. Moody said the morning summer camps starting this week also will allow students to meet their new classmates and teachers before the first day of school.

Parent Darcie Turpin led the effort Saturday to fix up the school yard. She said she is excited to contribute to the school’s development and looks forward to the wonderful opportunities her child will have at the World Language Academy.

"We want to make the school a welcoming, family atmosphere for students," she said. "We want them to come to the school for the first time and feel like it’s a family environment."

Moody said next year, when first-graders introduced to Spanish this year are promoted to second grade, the school will expand to having a dual-language curriculum for kindergarten through second grade. Each successive year, the dual-language program will grow one grade until 2012, when all World Language Academy students will spend school days learning the curriculum in both English and Spanish.

Moody said that in addition to a mandatory meeting for parents regarding the schools’ new approach to learning, parents of students at the World Language Academy must volunteer 10 hours of their time each year to developing the new school.

The last parent information meeting about the World Language Academy will be held at 6 p.m. July 31 at the school located at 4670 Winder Highway. Moody said parents still can apply for their children to attend the school this fall, but students may be put on a waiting list.

Carrie Woodcock, the dual-language coordinator for the World Language Academy, said about 60 percent of students who will attend the World Language Academy this fall are native English speakers, while roughly 40 percent are native Spanish speakers.

Woodcock, who has spent time in Ecuador and Mexico, is fluent in Spanish and said schools must introduce children to foreign languages as young as possible since children’s communication skills are wholly developed by age 8.

"One of the goals is that these children can serve as language role models to their peers," Woodcock said. "The goal is to try to have a good balance. Here, no one will be more important. We give equal status to both languages. We want them to feel free to speak in a risk-free environment to one another, where they can take risks while learning the language and feel comfortable speaking a new language."

Woodcock said the goal is to get young students speaking Spanish not only in the classroom, but on the playground, in the cafeteria and in the hallways, so they are seeped in the cultures of English and Spanish on a daily basis.

"I think we have a school board and a community and a superintendent who have the vision to offer our children new opportunities in the 21st century," Woodcock said.

"I am excited that our students will grow up to be bilingual and biliterate, and they will have an appreciation for all cultures and languages. I just expect great things from these kids. In a nutshell, I’m mostly excited that we can unite the community."