School goal: Bilingual 3-5-year-olds
ARIZONA DAILY STAR
A small building that once heard the stories of war veterans will now absorb the voices of young students speaking in foreign tongues.
 
Teachers are hired and the search for students has started for the International School of Tucson, where Spanish will be heard as much as - maybe even more than - English.
 
The building, a former Veterans of Foreign Wars hall located at 1730 N. First Ave., could hold as many as 62 3- to 5-year-olds in its five classrooms. They'll learn everything their public school counterparts will, but these kids are to become fluent English- and Spanish-speakers by the time they enter the first grade.
 
A few glitches aside, the International School of Tucson will be open on Monday, said school founder Robert Young. The school year will run through May 26.
 
It'll be the first school of its kind in Tucson, though there is a similar one in Scottsdale that has been open since 1998.
 
That school, the International School of Arizona, teaches preschool through fifth grade in French and English. It has grown from 15 to 57 students, but not without some hardship.
 
"People would like to come, but they live so far away, plus the cost of private school tuition (makes it difficult)," said Michelle Borie, the school's administrator. "But we've been received by the community as a good resource for learning foreign languages."
 
Learning other languages is important for young students because life is becoming more global by the minute, Young said. And lifelong learning happens best before the age of 7.
 
"At that time, their minds are so open to everything we can give them," said Young, who taught in such schools in Argentina, Kenya and Austria.
 
The curriculum of an international school differs from public schools mostly in the teaching philosophy, Young said. Instead of being tied down to predetermined content, the schools use a skills-based program built around 10 values, which include making kids inquirers, thinkers, risk-takers and communicators.
 
"Public education everywhere, whether it's Brazilian or American or French, takes 24 kids and produces one citizen," said Young, 44. The international school takes 24 kids and produces 24 citizens, he said. "They're all very aware and proud and conscious of who they are."
 
The privately funded school, which Young founded with his wife, Sally Thompson, is eligible to receive half-day funding from the government for pre-school and kindergarten. The school, however, will operate on a full-day schedule, so parents pay the rest of the tuition for their kids to attend.
 
The daily curriculum for the preschoolers and kindergartners (more grades will be added as the students progress) will add the knowledge of cultures and languages of other countries, with learning happening equally in English and Spanish. The goal here, Young said, is to make sure the students can speak a language other than their native tongue, read and write in both languages and learn the three R's.
 
"Many kids (in Tucson) are growing up realizing that the Spanish they're speaking at home is not the (Spanish) they'll need in the outside world," said the New Zealand-born Young.
 
Tucson Unified School District has two schools with bilingual immersion. Davis Elementary Magnet School almost fully teaches in Spanish from kindergarten through fifth grade. Roskruge Bilingual Magnet School picks up the dual-immersion program for middle-school students.
 
"They (the International School of Tucson) have the advantage of starting early and the research indicates that it takes seven years to learn a new language, so that's good," said Davis Principal Christopher Loya, adding that the waiting list at Davis means the demand for dual-language schools is high in Tucson.
 
International schools have thrived around since 1860, when the first campuses opened in Berlin, Paris and London. The schools traded students for three years and taught them the languages and cultures of the region.
 
The new school's teachers won't be required by law to be certified in Arizona, but they are certified in their home countries. Young has hired staff members from Venezuela, Puerto Rico and Chile. In the future. Chinese teachers will come from Asia, Arabic teachers from Morocco or Saudi Arabia. What they bring to the school that America-based teachers might not, Young believes, are more in-depth experiences abroad.
 
"Teachers will bring with them different views on the world," Young said, "and the kids need to see that there are different ways of looking at the world."
 
● Contact reporter Jeff Commings at 573-4191 or jcommings@azstarnet.com.