There are a vast number of bilingual schools in Atlanta that operate independently from the public school system. These schools range from large, well-established, and highly structured institutions to more informal gatherings organized by the local heritage communities. People in these communities, including parents and teachers, often volunteer to lead classes for the community’s children, ranging from toddlers to young adults. Some of these school have the more familiar Monday to Friday school structure, and some operate only on Saturdays and Sundays, as an add-on to students’ standard education. From a young age, the students are immersed in their language and culture through art, music, history, and cultural activities. This way, they are given the ability to connect to their culture and form deep bonds with their identity.
To some language learning is the path to becoming a global citizen; others see it as a means of connection with the cultural heritage they brought with them to Atlanta. We also heard bilingualism referenced in the context of accurate ethnic representation on the census. The multiple interpretations of the meaning of multilingualism that emerged during the day clarified why one language school might emphasize daily immersion, while another school might offer weekly art classes.
In addition, the varying purposes of these schools will largely determine the structure in terms of schedule, curriculum, and student body. In general, bilingual schools can be understood through 3 A’s: awareness, audience, and accessibility.
Awareness refers to both how the school advertises itself, and how aware the general public is of its existence. This is largely determined by the 2nd A: the target audience for the school’s services or the type of parents and students the school wants to attract. Finally, accessibility is how accommodating the school is to the community it serves in terms of its location, prices, and willingness to adapt to the needs of the students.
Atlanta Lunar New Year Festival
To better understand the various approaches to private bilingual education, we attended the Atlanta Lunar New Year Festival, hosted by the Cultural Center of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, to gather input from the bilingual community on what it means to be multilingual in modern Atlanta.
Watching artistic performances like the Dragon dance and enjoying traditional food reinforced the idea that language and language education cannot be viewed separately from the culture they represent. The people we interviewed also spoke to the meaning of language in the real world.
The Chinese New Year Festival was hosted at the Culture Center of Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Atlanta. This culture center itself contains the Chinese School of Atlanta, who had a booth presence at the festival. We spoke with Nancy Tai, the Principal, who gave us a peek into her school’s motivations and goals.
This school was founded over 40 years ago, and is the first Chinese school in Atlanta, Georgia. The school uses educational material from Taiwan, and offers a variety of classes. Aside from language classes, the school also offers cultural classes such as Tai Chi, Guzheng, calligraphy, and so on. The reach of this school extends to both students of Chinese heritage and nationality, but also to individuals without a background in Chinese language or heritage. Classes are offered on Saturdays and Sundays, and are tailored to students that fall in any of the following categories: Chinese background, No Chinese background, Child, Adult. Nancy Tai explained that these classes are designed to provide affordable resources to the community, accessible and affordable to those interested.
The Quadrilingual Academy is an up and coming school designed to teach 4 languages simultaneously: French, Spanish, English, and Mandarin. The school serves children from babies/toddlers through elementary school. The chosen curriculum for babies to toddlers is the Lango Kids curriculum, and from toddlers on, the curriculum will be the International Baccalaureate (IB) Primary Years Program.
During the Chinese New Year Festival, we talked to the Founder, Jessa Depew, and the French Curriculum Developer, Sophie Jasinski. Jessa and Sophie explained the importance of language, whether for a specific field, such as french communication in the Quebec medical field, or a general exposure to prepare for world experiences. This drove the desire to push against the increasing trend of American children speaking only English. They explained the intention behind the academy is to provide children with a multilingual and multicultural education from the earliest possible age. The academy begins with songs and stories in the four languages, and adds to the curriculum as the children grow and learn.
The Quadrilingual Academy is in its infant stages, but the interested audience of this school trends towards Americans and American-immigrants that do not speak a foreign language at home and want to expose their children to their language and culture. Thus, the Quadrilingual Academy is also gearing the accessibility of the program to such families that desire this in-depth IB education without the cost of a private school.
Atlanta International School is a private elementary, middle, and high school in Atlanta, Georgia. AIS is an international baccalaureate school formed in 1984. The cost of yearly tuition is $25,009 for grade 3K-4, $27,185 for grade 5-8 , and for $28,500 grade 9-12.
AIS offers full immersion pre-school programs in French, German, Chinese, and Spanish. As the children move up to grade 12, the curriculum is delivered in two languages. AIS also offers a Heritage Language Program for children in kindergarten to grade 5 that speak Hindi, Greek, Italian, Russian, and Swahili.
To learn more, check out this interactive map featuring different bilingual schools: