Forest Glen Elementary School: An International Studies Magnet Program
The ACIE Newsletter, November 2002, Vol. 6, No. 1
By Nikki Cholena Woodson, Principal, Forest Glen Elementary School, Indianapolis, IN
The Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township, Indiana, began its international studies program in 1994 to help with the population growth in Lawrence Township and to give parents more public school choice in their children’s education. The public school is located on the northeast side of Indianapolis, Indiana, and offers a Spanish immersion program for kindergartners through fifth grade and a global studies program for students in 1st through 5th grades.
Any Lawrence township student may apply for entrance into Forest Glen Elementary School. Class sizes are controlled though a lottery process which is in place to guarantee that all interested students have an equal opportunity for enrollment in the international magnet program. Students are selected on a random basis classified by grade level, gender, ethnicity, and home school. Siblings are given preference. It is the desire of Forest Glen to have a good representation of Lawrence Township at large.
Through a multicultural environment that promotes understanding amongst diverse nationalities, the students of Forest Glen are provided with the opportunities and resources to become cross-cultural learners and responsible citizens. Our staff is dedicated to the pursuit of excellence in education. Our programs provide balanced instruction and experiences designed to meet the needs of the whole child. They nurture the growth of each child academically, by teaching the skills required by the curriculum; socially, by fostering self-discipline, honesty, openness, tolerance, respect, and the ability to cope with change; intellectually, through the development of curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking; emotionally, by fostering self-esteem, initiative, and a positive attitude towards life; and physically, through the promotion of health and fitness. Education is viewed as more than the acquisition of knowledge—the process of inquiry, discovery, application, and creativity are considered equally important. At Forest Glen, we provide unique and challenging learning opportunities for K-5 students.
We believe that America is part of an ever changing interrelated global society. We believe that in order for students to be effective citizens in the 21st century, they must demonstrate their knowledge of the world—its history, geography, and human diversity; its people(s) and their languages and cultures; and its economic, political, ecological, technological and social systems. We believe the acquisition of linguistic and cultural skills is an integral part of inter-national education and that language is best acquired in the elementary grades.
Forest Glen offers two distinct programs for students: a Spanish immersion program which enrolls about one-third of the student population, and a global studies program which enrolls the remaining two-thirds of the student body. In both of these, the instruction is focused on an interdisciplinary approach with particular emphasis on the acquisition of linguistic and cultural skills. Teachers weave global issues, economics, cultures, traditions, and geography into the curriculum. Each grade level themes around a particular continent and integrates the core subjects around each theme (see table on page 12). A strong team of special area teachers who work together to further integrate the international themes supports our academic excellence.
The Forest Glen curriculum meets all the state and local requirements as other Lawrence Township schools. Students study reading and language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, health, art, music and physical education.
Forest Glen offers an enormous enrichment program for students at all age levels taught by staff members. Each child receives a catalog in the fall allowing choices to be made for the entire school year. This enables our families to plan around other extracurricular activities. Enrichment clubs are in session for a six-week period. We look forward each year to offering unique and educational activities. Enrichment programs include, but are not limited to, opportunities for international travel, a student-run television station, Student United Nations, a visiting artist program, and a choir.
The Immersion Program
After learning of the many years of success of Canadian immersion programs, as well as those in Milwaukee and San Francisco, Forest Glen was started as a magnet school designed to provide an intensive language experience that would attract students from throughout Lawrence Township.
The Forest Glen Immersion Program seeks to:
- Develop English language skills comparable to non-immersion peers;
- Develop high level of proficiency in understanding, speaking, reading, and writing in Spanish;
- Attain academic achievement equal to each student’s academic ability and grade level; and
- Promote knowledge about Hispanic culture, positive attitudes towards the Spanish language and multicultural perspectives, and knowledge about other cultures and languages.
Approximately 280 students, pimarily monolingual English-speaking children, participate in the Spanish immersion program where 90% of their instruction is conducted in Spanish beginning in kindergarten. English instruction is introduced progressively beginning in third grade. By the fourth grade, these students will have 50% of their instruction in Spanish and 50% instruction in English.
Teachers are native, or near-native, speakers of the second language and come to Forest Glen from around the globe. The children tend to show little anxiety or frustration about learning in another language because the things they learn are within their experience and because every effort is made to put messages into meaningful context.
Students enter the immersion program in kindergarten or first grade. New students are generally not admitted after the first grade due to the advanced language level of the other students. However, if a student has some background in the target language, the student may be admitted with the staff involved, provided there is an opening.
The Global Studies Program
Approximately 430 Forest Glen students are enrolled in the global studies program. Students in the global studies program have Spanish language classes five times each week during 30-minute periods in a Foreign Language in the Elementary School (FLES) format. Our goal is for the students to become conversational in a second language. Brain research has shown these elementary years are the optimal years for learning a second language. Students enter the global studies program in grades one through five, depending on their luck in the lottery and the space available.
After students complete the elementary program, they go on to attend one of three middle schools in the district. The language teachers at all three middle schools have prepared their curriculum to meet the needs of the Forest Glen students as they enter the sixth grade. However, the immersion program continues at only one middle school for grades 6-8 and at one high school for grades 9-12 in a partial immersion format.
Formal and informal assessments are used to track student progress. Teachers use the following to gather data on students’ progress and to guide instruction:
- Oral Performance for Language Acquisition
- State Standardized Tests
- SOPA Assessment
- Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA)
- Observation Survey
- Teacher Developed Assessments and Tests
- Writing Assessments, graded with rubrics
- Accelerated Reader
- Student Portfolios
Involved parents are vital contributors to our success at Forest Glen. When parents apply for this magnet, they understand the expectations of being partners in education both in and out of the school setting. Parents volunteer in classrooms, work in the office and media center, assist with projects and homework at home, serve on school committees, accompany students on study trips, and share their expertise as guest speakers. The Parent-Faculty Organization (PFO) supports and funds many of our extracurricular programs. Many parents take Spanish classes to be able to share in their child’s education and encourage their child to practice and speak Spanish at home.
Challenges Facing Forest Glen
With the program in its ninth year, we are beginning to collect longitudinal data to determine areas of program improvement. We want to look carefully at documentation of student progress throughout the different stages of our K-12 immersion program. One goal is to find areas where improved instruction will increase student achievement.
Another goal and challenge is to educate parents on the language acquisition journey their children go through. We are continuing to develop strategies to inform parents, key decision makers in our district, and the community at large on issues related to immersion education. These strategies could improve parental understanding of language acquisition as well as increase their support of the program. In addition, our efforts may reduce confusion about immersion education thus positively influencing parents who may want to remove their child from the immersion school.
All cultures, nationalities, races, and genders will be recognized, taught, celebrated, and respected at Forest Glen International School. As comparisons and contrasts are learned and understood, a greater emphasis will be placed on our likeness as humans rather than on our differences.
- Students will perform at their personal best level.
- Lifelong Guidelines and Lifeskills will be used daily by students and staff.
- Parents will support discipline and respect for our school, teachers, and classmates.
- Communication between home and school will be open. Praises and concerns will be welcomed.