One of our featured blog topics will be Voices From Our Parent Community.
This week I had the privilege of speaking with Harry, a parent who came into the La Scuola ‘famiglia’ four years ago with his wife Michelle and their daughter Zoe who was about to enter Kindergarten.
Harry’s story is one that is representative of what we hear at La Scuola of families who are drawn to our international school despite not having a native Italian speaker at home.
Here is what Harry had to say about “Why La Scuola?” and what stood out to he and his wife as they considered joining an Italian Language Immersion school as non Italian speakers.
Q: Tell me about your journey into La Scuola.
Harry: “My daughter joined La Scuola at the kindergarten level so she didn’t speak any Italian before coming, and we only speak English at home, so that on top of the other kindergarten transitions that was another piece we had to consider.”
Q: Were you concerned about this, not being Italian speakers?
Harry: “The Italian wasn’t a big deal at all - Zoe is pretty ‘go with the flow’ and usually up for anything; it just was not a big deal. I think it helped that we had been visiting Michelle’s family in France just before kindergarten was starting, and we had pointed out that this is just the way people speak in different parts of the world. That’s the attitude we took, like our family mantra, “go with the flow”.
The ability of children to take in and pick up a second language at this age is remarkable. Unfortunately, the introduction of a second language in most school systems in the US is simply too late to take advantage of our early natural abilities. So, to us it just made so much sense, that if you can, immerse them in multiple languages when their brains are primed for language acquisition!”
“The ability of children to take in and pick up a second language at this age is remarkable.”
- Harry, Father of Zoe a Third Grader at La Scuola International School
Also the way the school approaches the Italian is very ‘no pressure’ when it comes to speaking with the teachers. This contributes to the language not feeling like a big deal and is another example that there can be an ease to the experience and a trust that a student will get there; that there is plenty of time to grow and learn at their own pace. We really appreciate the absence of any significant top down pressure. And when there is more encouragement to speak Italian in the second and third grade, it’s always through positive reinforcement.”
Q: What has been your experience seeing how the language immersion has impacted Zoe’s reading and writing in English?
We understand that research shows that initially children can seem “behind” their peers in single language classes in reading and comprehension but that by 3rd or 4th grade they’ve caught up to them or passed them by and by 5th most kids have gone beyond their peers in single language schools. So you do have to make the commitment that this is going to be a longer term goal but it can be met and will pay huge dividends.
The idea that a second language takes away from their ability to learn the local or primary language is a misconception from the time of our grandparents, when it was discouraged to continue or promote speaking the immigrant language. Italian hasn't slowed Zoe’s English reading or comprehension; in fact, it’s ahead of grade level and her Italian is at grade level. So, we know we’re still in the investment period. The academic benefits that this style of learning creates continue to show up and increase even later in their development.
Q: Was it certain you would do the private school route?
Harry: “No. I went on at least six or eight public school visits as well. We put the language immersion public schools at the top of our list so we considered public and private schools that offered language immersion. Once we were accepted to La Scuola, though, it really only came to that and one other school.
Q: “What was it about La Scuola” that had it stand out above the others you looked at?”
Harry: “I made the connection after talking to Valentina (Head of School), Dunja (Director of Admissions) and other parents, that the education these children were getting was as close to my experience in graduate school that I had seen, and graduate school was by far the most fun I had ever had in school! Seeing the school’s approach to having students leading their learning, I recognized that this is such a unique opportunity in education, and with the language immersion, the warm, familial environment, and the importance of socio-emotional learning, we agreed that most children would thrive in this kind of environment. Zoe still hugs Adam (Kindergarten teacher) every morning at drop-off, so I get to see it every day.”
Q: What does it look like now in your family with Zoe being an Italian speaker?
Harry: “We defer to her when it comes to Italian, although Michelle recently started one of the Language Enrichment classes you (La Scuola) offer. So, Zoe speaks Italian, my wife speaks French and Spanish, and I speak Chemistry, although no one seems to appreciate or have much interest in that!”
Q: What’s one of the things you’ve learned and discovered since being a part of La Scuola?
Harry: Because I was so excited about the school, I realized with it being a newer school, we would have the opportunity to contribute to building it up. When you’re a transplant, it can feel hard sometimes to feel like you’re part of the community and this was an exciting opportunity to do that and we’ve really enjoyed that aspect of being a part La Scuola and helping to establish it and its future.