Creating “good and responsible world citizens”

In recent months, DC Action staff members have been fortunate enough to participate in “First Fridays”, sponsored by Charter Board Partners, CityBridge Foundation, and Friends of Choice in Urban Schools (FOCUS). The first Friday of each month, community members and advocates are invited to tour successful charter school models around the District. While this was only my second tour, the Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom Public Charter School (Stokes) in Northeast highlighted the achievements that are possible within public education.

Not only was Stokes one of the first charter schools in the District 14 years ago, but it was the first school to incorporate a dual language program.

•    Co-teaching: Pre-K through second grade classrooms are led by co-teachers; one native Spanish or French speaker and the other an English-speaking teacher. From the third to sixth grades, there are four teachers per classroom, two English speaking and two foreign language speaking.
•    Throughout the day, each class is divided into smaller cohorts that work in English or in their chosen foreign language.
•    Unique capstone opportunity: In the sixth grade, students can participate in a capstone trip to either Martinique or Panama, where they attend a sister school, polish their language skills, and experience a culture very different than their own.

Linda R. Moore, Founder and Executive Director of Stokes, believes their unique model produces “good and responsible world citizens.”

Most public school students don’t encounter a second language until middle school despite the growing literature citing the benefits of beginning a second language at an early age. In a Stokes first grade classroom, I heard students using Spanish words that I didn’t learn until I was twice their age. One brave boy approached the group of adults now hovering over his classroom to say, “Bienvenidos.” During the third grade Spanish class, I was impressed by the fluent Spanish spoken between the students and their teachers. They showed us how they write about some of their favorite cartoon characters, “Bob Esponga” and “Patricio.”

The tour left me feeling hopeful that the District could one day successfully turn its attention and resources to the failing schools, both charter and community based, and begin implementing what we know works! In this age of increasing globalization, we need our future leaders to be engaged in their communities, and knowledgeable of other languages and cultures.