Valley schools giving students a world view
The Arizona Republic
Apr. 4, 2005

Mel Meléndez

Parents' push for multilingual classes is creating a demand for elementary and high schools with an international flavor.

Valley schools that fit the bill include:

• Friendly House's Academia del Pueblo, a K-8 public charter school in Phoenix with an English-Spanish focus.

• The International School of Arizona, a private pre-K-5 school in Scottsdale with French and Spanish training.

• SABIS International, a K-11 private school in Phoenix where students focus on English, math and world languages.

• Central High School's International Studies Program, where students are required to take four years of a foreign language and international-themed courses.

"More parents are beginning to understand that being bilingual or even multilingual is becoming more of a necessity," said Michelle Borie, school administrator of the International School of Arizona. "We live in a global economy and youngsters need to be trained that way to compete later on in life."

Gilbert parent Andrea Parker-Swenson agrees. Her daughters Cassandra, 6, and Olivia, 3, attend the International School of Arizona. Cassandra, who's fluent in French and recently started learning Spanish, is already inquiring about other languages to learn.

"We could be sending her to public school for free," said Parker-Swenson, who has a master's degree in education. "But we see this as an investment in her future."

Studies show that foreign-language skills increase employment opportunities and workers' overall earning potential.

"That's why Europeans have a leg up on us and their kids speak three or four languages," Parker-Swenson said. "We have it backwards and teach our kids foreign languages in high school, which is way too late for them to really master them."Still, some high schools are jumping into the fray and increasing language offerings.

For example, the Phoenix Union High School District offers a free International Studies program at Central High School where students are required to take four years of Chinese, French, Japanese, Latin or Spanish and must enroll in international-themed classes. About 350 students enroll annually, with the option to travel abroad by their senior year.

Plans also are under way for the International Multilingual American German-speaking School, a partnership of the Austrian, German and Swiss consulates. The K-12 school's curriculum would teach students through third grade in English and German, and add French and Spanish from fourth grade on. The curriculum would comply with U.S., Swiss, German and Austrian academic standards.

"The school will be ideal for students who want to study abroad," said Bernard O. Otremba-Blanc, consul of Germany. "But even those who stay here will benefit because Phoenix is becoming more of an international player, so a global education will always be a bonus."