On Wednesday, September 24th, we attended the first community meeting (there will be five others in various locations around Cleveland) of the Global Ambassadors Language Academy (GALA) which should be officially opening in August, 2015. The meeting was conducted by Founding School Director Ms. Meran Rogers who explained what the new school is all about. The mission of GALA is to "ensure that each student achieves lifelong academic success, bilingualism and appreciation for diversity, in an engaging and academically rigorous language immersion environment." The vision is "to create a better world through education, elimination of language barriers, and preparation of global leaders for the future."
GALA will be a non-profit, tuition-free charter school covering kindergarten through the 8th grade. There will be spaces for 160 students total and the student/teacher ratio will be 10 to 1; 20 students in a class to be taught by an instructor and his/her aide. To put it briefly, the language immersion process will consist of students spending at least 50% of the day learning in the "target language" (which will be Mandarin or Spanish) and the other 50% of the school day learning in English except for kindergarten which will be 100% immersion. The goal will be for all of the students to be bilingual by the 3rd grade so no new students will be accepted past the 1st grade because it would just be too hard for them to catch up.
To be sure, this will require a considerable commitment from the family also. But it will pay off immensely because Ms. Rogers cited very convincing data that showed that the GALA students would be extremely well-developed in the areas of academic achievement, language and literacy, cognitive skills, socio-cultural (i.e. multi ethnic and muliticultural attitudes), and would have increased employment opportunities. It must be said that these advantages are consistent for students from low income families as well as high income families.
What's more, GALA will be the first foreign language immersion school in Northeast Ohio and the first Mandarin immersion school in Ohio. In fact there are only 6 foreign language immersion schools in all of Ohio. Compare this to Utah were there are 118 foreign language immersion schools that include French, Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin and German.
As to where GALA will be located, Ms. Rogers said that there are three front runners: on the east side there is Fairhill Partners, on the west side there is St. Mel's near Kamm's Corners, and there is also the building where the Children's Museum (which will be moving) is now housed. There are also several other possibilities including a place in Ohio City. Above all, they seek a location that is in Cleveland and is in a walkable area.
The chosen location will be announced in December, 2014 and the rest of the timeline is to start the hiring in February, 2015; start enrolling the children in March, 2015; and open in August, 2015 with kindergarten and first grade and add a grade each year as the same children progress.
There were about 15 people at this meeting including Ms. Elizabeth Hijar, board chair, and Ms. Christine Zuniga-Eadie, another board member. Also present were Mr. Jamar Doyle, Assistant Director of St. Clair Superior Development Corporation, and former Cuyahoga County Council member Mr. Julian Rogers.
We looked at the list of board members and discovered two familiar names designated as honorary members who were our friend Dr. Maria Pujana and Ms. Margaret W. Wong! Ms. Rogers said that Ms. Wong was "a busy lady and an inspiration."
As we were leaving we thought back to our own experience with learning a foreign language which consisted of 3 years of Spanish in junior high/middle school and high school. Unfortunately, we never had much occasion to use it in the few years after we learned it so now we cannot remember or speak hardly any Spanish at all. Sadly, Ms. Rogers told us that our experience in not uncommon.
Based on what Ms. Rogers told us during the presentation, the children who attend GALA will learn Spanish/Mandarin a lot earlier in life than we learned Spanish and will still be able to speak it when they are older than we are now. During the presentation it was said, "the world seems smaller than it has ever been. Where can you go where the people are not speaking more than one language?"