World Languages Program Brings Global Community to The Children’s School

At The Children’s School, the values of diversity and inclusion have always been central to who we are and how we operate.Our new World Languages program, with this year’s launch of Chinese for age 3 through grade 2 and Spanish for grade 3 – grade 8,  reflects those core beliefs.

“Even the subtle change in terminology from ‘foreign languages’ to ‘world languages’ offers a more inclusive picture of how we view the critical role that Spanish and Chinese will play in our children’s education,” said Nishant. “Language is the strongest facilitator we know in education that creates empathetic people; children and adults who understand difference not as alien or foreign to them but as a rich way to understand the world around them and their place in it.”

Chinese Specialist Yingli Zhang comes to TCS from Wesley International Academy where she worked for the past 11 years as one of the founding teachers, helping to establish their current Chinese language program.

“The teachers and parents have been very supportive and the students show great enthusiasm and eagerness to learn Chinese. They greet me in Chinese whenever they see me around campus. We sing Chinese songs, play Chinese games, practice Chinese dialogs with classmates, and learn the Chinese classroom routines. Second graders even love to solve math problems in Chinese,” said Yingli. “I have so many parents greeting me during morning carpool in Chinese. Some parents said they were blown away when they heard their children counting numbers and singing Chinese songs at home.”

“The new Chinese program has been a highlight of the start of Jabari’s second-grade experience at TCS,” said TCS parent Nikki Butts. “We’re hearing more about Chinese at home than Jabari has ever shared about school. If it’s a ‘Chinese Day’ at school, there’s always a special ‘YES!’ on his way to school in the morning.”  

TCS chose Chinese because we wanted to offer a non-Western language. With English and Spanish already part of the school’s curriculum, adding another Western language would have continued to perpetuate a Western-focused worldview.

To focus our decision, we only looked at the official languages of the United Nations. Of those, only two made the cut when filtered through the criteria of non-Western languages that we would consider adding to our program. Those two were Chinese (Mandarin) and Arabic. There’s already a robust network of Chinese language educators in Atlanta, Chinese is the second most spoken language in the world and China has the second largest economy in the world and that made the decision in favor of the Chinese language a simple one. With Chinese language skills, our students will have a better background and position when they start their careers.

New TCS Spanish Specialist Lisa Lopez was born and raised in Mexico City where she attended the international, bilingual, multicultural The American School Foundation for her K-12 education. After high school, she attended and graduated from Allegheny College in Meadville, Pa., where she studied Spanish literature, women studies, and environmental science, as well as studying abroad for a year at the University of Seville in Spain.

Her background includes Spanish teaching positions at The American School Foundation in Mexico City and an English teaching position in Spain. Locally, she’s taught at Holy Innocents Episcopal School and Mount Vernon Presbyterian School. She also recently spent time as a professional development specialist at Mount Vernon Presbyterian but felt called to return to a place she loves, the classroom.

“I love it when young students synergize with the language and set forth their best effort to speak the language. It is such a feeling of connection and triumph. I believe the world needs communication and understanding now more than ever. The United States has the second largest Spanish speaking population in the world after Mexico. The future is definitely multilingual,” Lisa said.

“The progressive mindset at TCS reminded me of my time at The American School Foundation in Mexico City, where my days were all about childhood-centered education,” Lisa added. “I believe languages are learned through the senses, and so my classroom attempts to incorporate all the senses. Our third- and fourth-grade students recently enjoyed watching their first entire film in Spanish, ‘Kika Superbruja,’ a German/Spanish co-production from Disney about magic and children. Stimulating senses by changing things up completely supports healthy brain growth, and when the children realize that they can actually understand Spanish stories and really enjoy them, that’s the best part.”

The Spanish program is being recreated as a more academic course that meets more regularly and has clear and attainable targets for learning at each level. By the end of studying Spanish for six years (grades 3 – 8) at least three times each week in a rigorous class setting, students should be able to communicate at a basic intermediate level.

“This new program will introduce a skills-based, goal-orientated, academic language learning program for the first time at TCS,” Allen added. “Yingli and Lisa are experienced and trained in the best practices for teaching their native languages, and they’re interested in working with others as a team in broadening the ways our children will see and interact with their worlds – in Chinese, Spanish, as well as English! Language learning will be much more a part of the school culture and what you hear about at home as it becomes a true core competency.”

In launching the new world languages program, TCS continues to work closely with language program consultant and former TCS parent, Krista Forsgren to carefully asses and evolve the initiative.  

“Learning multiple languages will benefit the children by opening their minds. Literally, more brain synapses will be forming the more they listen, speak, and study another language or three,” said Krista. “We must look at language learning from the perspective of a child. As adults, we see learning a new way of communicating as a big challenge, and oftentimes as something rather daunting – particularly to those who have grown up in a monolingual environment. The wonderful thing about a child’s brain is that it is open and in the process of being built – so unless they are told something is ‘difficult’ it really isn’t. This is especially the case with language learning and children. Learning to use a language through play-based processes and storytelling is as natural as learning how to sing or dance or learning the language of mathematics to our children.”

Offering our children a foundation in both Spanish and Chinese, the two most widely spoken languages of communication in the world today, and teaching the languages as a core competency, rather than an ancillary element of our children’s education, will help our children attain a higher level of language fluency, while developing cultural and global awareness we value so deeply at TCS.

“All parents love to see their children happy, engaged, and passionate. Eric and I are grateful for the opportunity to send our children to a school that offers an innovative World Languages program, but what means even more to us is that these stories are just a small glimpse into what it’s like to be a TCS family,” added Nikki. “As TCS parents, we have kids who are excited to go to school every day and we know our children are learning from and with teachers and peers who truly know them and care about them. We hear our children set goals and watch them work hard to achieve them. We see them inspired to create, imagine, wonder, and play. We witness their confidence grow and their hands, minds, and hearts eager to learn more. What Jabari is describing isn’t just an introduction to the Chinese language and culture – it’s part of the gift of a TCS childhood, and one we get to experience and cherish along with our children at TCS.”