Saturday, March 23, 2013

St. Louis Language Immersion Schools - The French School

The St. Louis Language Immersion School (SLLIS) is a charter school focusing on a full curriculum based in foreign languages.


Here's some background from the SLLIS website:
St. Louis Language Immersion Schools Inc. is a federal non-profit organization that operates a network of independent charter public schools in St. Louis, MO. In 2009, SLLIS opened the first two schools in its network: The French School and The Spanish School.

In 2012, SLLIS opened The Chinese School. Each school opened with Kindergarten and First Grade students and will grow to Fifth Grade. The French School and The Spanish School are currently candidate schools for the Primary Years Programme of the International Baccalaureate. The International School, our secondary campus, will open with 6th grade in 2014. The International School will implement Middle Years Programme (MYP) and Diploma Programme (DP) for all students.

The SLLIS network will grow to include up to 8 elementary schools and a secondary school. All schools in the SLLIS network will implement the International Baccalaureate curricular frameworks in addition to local and national achievement measures. SLLIS has a 5-year charter from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education that is overseen by University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Each school in the SLLIS network is funded primarily by DESE and follows DESE’s monthly data collection for student, educator and financial data. University of Missouri-St. Louis conducts a bi-annual review of SLLIS state compliance, academic performance, financial stability and charter fidelity. Although these agencies are officially charged with overseeing our academic progress and fiduciary viability, we believe that the members of our learning community are the people to whom we are most responsible.
The full charter for the school can be read HERE.

This post will focus on the French School, I'll do separate stories on the Chinese and Spanish school because I'm fascinated with this place and think each should be treated independently.  The French school is located at 1881 Pine Street in the Downtown West Neighborhood just across Olive Street from the future St. Louis Police Department headquarters.


The building is a rather nondescript corporate looking five story building that the Chinese School will move to as well in the coming year.  There is no signage at all that I could find that would indicate to the public what is housed in this building.



I hope that the school decides to put up signage on the building to let everyone know that this is an important place and what is going on here.  This would mark SLLIS as part of the neighborhood, and exert a sense of permanence for the school.  That's one of the things I admire about the public schools in the city, the architects marked the schools with prominent signage as to speak to the permanency and importance of the school itself.  I want these schools to be as much a part of the community and city as the public and private schools are.

The Chinese and Spanish Schools are currently located at 4011 Papin Street in the Forest Park Southeast Neighborhood; you've probably noticed the school just south of the I-64 and Vandeventer Avenue ramps (I will get to that school in the near future).

When I was in the neighborhood taking pictures of the building, I heard the swell of children's voices playing outside.  This is music to my ears as a parent.  It is a sound like no other, and it's great to hear a group of kids playing on a new playground downtown right behind the school building.


More from the SLLIS website:
Our Mission
To position all children for success in local and global economies through holistic, intellectually inspiring language immersion programs.
Our Vision
In fifteen years the St. Louis Language Immersion Schools network will create change by:
•Strengthening the pipeline of creative, culturally astute leaders prepared for success in post-secondary education institutions
•Increasing St. Louis’ visibility as a preferred community in which to live, work and raise a family by preparing students to prevail in global economic competition

•Promoting intercultural dialogue, altruism and civic pride

Our Core Values

Our core values drive our decision-making for the organization and for each of our schools. They represent our beliefs about who we are and how we operate. Each school may also have individual school values that inform the student experience.
Leadership starts with you: All members of our community are leaders and the diversity of leadership styles is respected throughout the network. Each person is encouraged to communicate their vision, engage in honest discourse and listen to others with the goal of understanding new points of view. How will you lead our community today?
Citizens of the world: We recruit and retain students, educators and advocates who represent the diversity of the region. We are diverse and we are committed to exploring our differences. Despite our differences, we are similar in our desire to create a world in which we are all equally respected.

High expectations for all members of the learning community: We believe that high expectations are reserved not only for student performance, but also for every interaction. Administrators, educators, support staff, families and community partners are held to high standards for their contributions to each school. Students are held to high expectations for their academic performance and personal integrity in both the school and broader global communities.

International awareness: We are mindful in examining and incorporating international best practices into our school design. Similarly, we encourage instructors and students to contextualize local, national and world perspectives when exploring curricular themes.
Wow, that sounds amazing. 


Now, I know there is some debate as to whether or not charter schools are good for the city.  I will not get into that debate.  I see the very simple fact that there are school options in 2013 that didn't exist as options for loving/caring families and parents a mere 5 years ago.  I like options therefore, I'm including charter and private school profiles on my website...all are part of the solution for St. Louis.  No one will get excluded.   An this school and language immersion concept is simply fascinating.

And here's my last personal interjection before I get on to the story from a family at SLLIS...I work in an international position for a global agricultural company.  I firmly believe that the emerging markets in Eastern Europe, Africa, South America and Asia are critical for the future of North America and the world in general.  Building links to those areas has been a blessing for me.  I am so lucky to have travelled, established relationships with, and routinely work with amazing people all around the global.  Bridging cultures through language and food is the best way to connect and form bonds.  I am sad that I never followed through and learned a 2nd language.  My one piece of advice to my 3 children is to learn a second language.  It is a life-long gift and talent.  And, do it while you're young.  We truly are in a global economy and those that can't keep up will be left behind.  Alright, back to the SLLIS.

I was able to connect with the Smith family (Kim, Josh and Avery) to talk about the French School and here is their story:

Where are you guys from?
Josh and I are from rural south central Missouri.
How long have you lived in St. Louis?
13 years
What neighborhood do you reside in?
Tower Grove South
How old are your kid(s)?
Our daughter Avery will be 8 in May.
How long has she attended SLLIS?
Since Kindergarten, 2010/2011.  It was the school's 2nd year in operation.
What other schools did you consider?
We applied at Kennard and Wilkinson, and briefly considered Central Presbyterian in Clayton.  We also toured Shaw and Mullanphy, and were offered a spot at Mallinkrodt.
What was the key decision point for choosing SLLIS?
We met with school founder Rhonda Broussard in a small group of parents to hear about the language immersion concept, and were completely blown away by her vision. 
Ms. Broussard (photo source)
We wanted to be in a school where the staff and parents were equally passionate about the school.  We also wanted a curriculum that would challenge our daughter and keep her engaged.  We liked the idea that she would do the same subjects as a traditional school, but completely in French.  Definitely challenging!  We chose French over Spanish because we felt there would be opportunity for her to learn Spanish later, but French was not as common or easily acquired.
How do you enroll in SLLIS?
Families must attend an enrollment event (school tour, etc) to apply.  Applications are accepted for Kindergarten and first grade in the spring prior to attending in the fall.  There is a lottery system if necessary.
Does your daughter take a bus, walk or drop-off to/from school?
We do drop off and pickup via carpool, but there are buses as well.
Please rank on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the best) safety, teaching, principal, curriculum, physical resources and overall education:
Safety-8, teaching-10, principal-10, curriculum-10, physical resources-7.5-8, overall education-10
Are there enrichment classes available?
Students have art, music, PE/yoga and library.  English classes begin in 2nd semester of 2nd grade.  There is a Title 1 after school reading program 3 days/week after school.
Are there extra-curricular activities?
Yes.  Our daughter participates in the violin program, soccer, Girl Scouts, and a Lego League.  There is also chess, circus, drumming, magic, speed stacking, journalism and yoga (to name a few)  as well as an after-care program.
What is the makeup of the student body (part of the city from/race/income level)?
Based on the most current information I have, students come from 44 zip codes, 12% from the county.  45% of students qualify for free or reduced lunch.
The latest estimates on racial breakdown (source): 
55% Black
39% White
3% Hispanic/Latino
< 1% Asian
StLouisCityTalk:  "this is fairly close to the overall demographics of St. Louis"

Is there good parental involvement and accountability?
Parents are asked to volunteer 30 hours per school year in various roles, ranging from classroom help, field trips, after school clubs, hosting interns, attending or volunteering at events, attending meetings, etc.
Top pros?
Our daughter is completely bi-lingual and has been for over a year.  The curriculum (Primary Years Programme of the International Baccalaureate) is fun and challenging for her, and she is encouraged to work ahead, sometimes attending 3rd grade math and reading.  The curriculum is based on units of inquiry, and this year she has studied systems, cultural exchange (with a focus on Native Americans), and human rights.  Second graders just finished oral reports (in French) on a historical figure of their choice who changed the world (popular choices were Gandhi, Helen Keller, John Lennon and Harriet Tubman), as well as a play depicting the Rose Parks story (also in French).  As a whole, I think language immersion is a great model in an urban school, where children arrive with a range of pre-K experiences.  The playing field is immediately leveled when they show up on day 1.  It doesn't matter if they went to preschool, know their ABC's or can read and write, because NONE of them speak French.  They all start at square one.  I think that is a terrific advantage.
Top cons?
Our main concerns stem from when the class is unable to remain faithful to the immersion model, for reasons such as discipline or students who are new to the immersion language.  We have been very impressed, however, with combined efforts of the parents, teachers, administration and board to address these concerns quickly.  We are moderately concerned about facilities as the schools continue to grow, but as of now we have always had fairly adequate space to meet our needs.
Any other thoughts/comments?
We are truly happier than we ever expected to be at a city school.  When Avery wasn't picked in the lottery for Kennard, we were extremely disappointed, but now I am so grateful it turned out the way it did.  I don't think she could be doing any better overall in her education (according to both her standardized testing and what we see and hear at home and from her teachers), plus she has learned to read, write and speak another language. We love every person on staff, have made great friends in other parents, and had so many cultural opportunities that we just couldn't get anywhere else.  We've hosted 4 student teachers from France in our home since Kindergarten (ranging from 1 month to 1 semester at a time), and it is such a great experience. 
Avery can't imaging being in any other school (and gets very upset if we even mention the possibility).  Provided the school charter is continually renewed, we will most certainly be there until graduation.
Charter specific questions:

Who is the sponsor?
UMSL 
What are the fees, if any?
None
What is the long-term stability of the school?
Charter is approved for renewal every 5 years.  The initial charter outlines a 15 year plan, adding a grade every year until the school is K through 12.
Residents of St. Louis, please, please research your options for school in the city before you vacate for the suburbs.  There are many, many viable school options in St. Louis that did not exist before.  The people in the suburbs bag on the city and the schools constantly, but many of these naysayers know absolutely nothing about the schools or the options that exist.  Ignorance is a problem.  Racism is a problem.  Classism is a problem.  We are overcoming many of these problems from within when dedicated and caring families engage and root down in the city and the schools.  We, along with the dedicated educators & administrators, are the ones changing the future

If you are an expecting parent or young family, please call the school, email me, talk to your neighbors, go visit the places...anything to learn about the city schools.  Become educated on your choices before abandoning the city like so many generations of un/misinformed people.

Be part of the solution and not the problem.  Thanks to the Smith family for sharing their story...St. Louis City Talk is on to the next school adventure...stay tuned and informed.

4 comments:

Fatemeh Khanoom said...

This was very informative. I'd love to hear from parents that sent their children to the Chinese School as well. I look forward to reading your review on that school as well.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this! As a fellow journalist, this piece was more than informative! As a parent who just received a call from the school offering a spot to my child, to read this was great confirmation in making my decision. I just moved here from Dallas, and living in the city has been an experience-mostly due to the quality of education, or lack thereof. Coming from Texas, I was shocked to learn that there is practically no diversity in the city schools. My children have grown up being exposed to other cultures, and in today's world it's absolutely necessary. I was scared that my children would become closed-minded or develop a "Saint Louis mentality" should they attend a city public school. At first thought, I was worried about separating my children (I also have a fifth grader) if I sent my daughter to the school, but after reading this, it just may be worth it. Thank you!

Mark Groth said...

^thanks for the kind words anonymous. Just to clarify, I am not a journalist. This is a blog and is just my personal thoughts and take on issues. My goal with the school posts is to raise awareness on the viable options that exist in St. Louis so people with kids have more info and a personal story to read about families succeeding in the city. Thanks again for reading.

Anonymous said...

What happened to your planned reviews of the other schools? I would like to see a review of The Spanish School as well.