By John Bailey
Photos: Robert C. Reed/Record
NEWTON – It’s been said it takes a village to raise a child.
At North Newton Elementary, it’s the whole world.
Last year, the school was restructured to become a global school in instruction and in appearance. Flags from different countries were hung inside and outside the school while global murals were painted throughout the building.
For instruction, each grade has its own cultural themes from different countries and regions of the world they incorporate into their class work. The idea came from Newton-Conover City Schools Superintendent David Stegall and promotes one of the system’s core values: producing globally competitive students.
Principal Shane Whitener said the change also has encouraged his staff to think about their job differently.
“We know one of the focuses for all of our kids is preparing them for a global society,” Whitener said. “No longer are jobs just Newton, North Carolina. You may work in Newton, but you may be corresponding with people all over the world. Just having a basic understanding that things are different in other places opens up the door to many opportunities for our kids.”
Hello and Hola
Enhancing this global experience even more is the dual immersion program in language. Last year the kindergartners had half of their instruction in English and the other half in Spanish, rotating between two teachers on an A day/B day model.
This continued into first grade this year while the new cohort of kindergarteners started the same cycle.
Adriana Botero is the kindergarten Spanish dual immersion teacher and was brought in through the Visiting International Faculty (VIF) program from Columbia. The program also has Lucia Otalora as the dual immersion teacher for first grade.
“I used to work in a bilingual school and had the opportunity to work with teachers from the United States and Canada,” Botero said. “They work with kids the moment they are 2 years old. Before they go to middle school, they are bilingual.”
She wanted to be part of a similar program in the United States.
Botero thought last year’s first group of kindergarteners responded well to the immersion.
“We can see that most of them can read in Spanish at the end of the year,” Botero said. “They can make short sentences and can communicate their needs like when they want to drink water and when they want to go to the bathroom.”
When Whitener and his staff first looked into becoming a global school they were shown research on the benefits of dual immersion.
“It forces them to use both sides of their brain. It sounds good in theory until you see the results first hand,” the principal said. “Our kids did phenomenal last year when VIF came to do their assessments at the end of the year.
“Our kids are performing higher than our kids who are just in the English classes, and it’s not because of a difference in the teaching aspect. It’s all due to kids having to pay attention. They know they have to pay attention in order to pick up on what their learning.”
The school also does reading assessments at the end of the year and the dual immersion students performed at a high level in those the principal added.
The goal is to have the language program continue through all five grades at North Newton.
Knowing your neighbors
The global point of view at the school also helped to expand all the student’s knowledge beyond the borders of their own culture.
“For my students, I’ve been talking about China and it was amazing to see how they can compare China with Columbia not just with the United States,” Botero said.
The students were curious about various cultural differences between the two countries, asking how houses were different, how clothing was different, what kind of hats they wore.
“Now they know the world is bigger. People look different. People behave and think in different ways,” Botero said. “I know if they have this opportunity to talk about Africa in first grade and Australia in third grade, they really understand the world in a different way, better maybe than we understood the world when we were at that age.”
The school’s Global Leadership Team is made of one to two teachers at every grade level and they work to prepare the rest of the school’s staff for this unique approach.
“We also have four mini workshops online that we have to do during the year to prepare the teachers and to really get the teachers to open up with the mindset of how to pull the global stuff into teaching daily work,” global leadership chair and English as a Second Language teacher Jamesia Brown said.
On April 29, the school will host its second international festival.
“This year we’re hoping to have musical performances from the kids from around the world,” Brown said. “We’re also working on a couple of folk tales from around the world the kids are going to perform.”
Whitener said the cost to make the transition has been negligible while Brown added the only challenge in making sure what they’re doing coincides with standards is working culture into math.
“We’re really working to pull in how they can talk about measurements or money, different places from around the world,” Brown said.
In the end, it’s all about teaching the students what makes them different from kids in other countries is also what makes them the same, Botero said.