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Kate's Blog: Bilingualism, Brains, and Back-to-School

_MG_9993As I left the Cohn Campus after the State of the School just a two short weeks ago, my heart was warm from the sense of community I felt at the reception, my spirit was lifted by the enthusiasm of the parents when we toured the latest updates to campus, and my mind was inspired by Philippe’s vision of our academic evolution.

Ideas were rushing through my head, and, as often happens, whatever program was playing on NPR as I turned on the car was almost white noise in the background until I heard “bilingual,” “immersion,” and “Chinese.” It was one of those moments when life shines a light on connections and confirms that your hard work is worth it. “How perfect,” I thought, as I hoped many other parents were listening as they drove home – a piece on the benefits of bilingualism right after an evening celebrating academic excellence that is built upon the foundation of bilingualism.

IMG_4083It was a few days later that I actually had a moment to listen to the program in its entirety, and was thrilled to hear yet another connection. The American RadioWorks piece, “The Science of Smart,” takes listeners through a journey of understanding the importance of the prefrontal cortex and its relation to executive functioning, which is significantly strengthened by becoming bilingual.

The prominent researcher in bilingualism and the brain who speaks in the program is none other than Ellen Bialystock, who will be coming to ISTP in person in October for a faculty workshop as well as a parent talk! We are thrilled to be hosting two different prominent researchers this fall, Ellen Bialystok the evening of October 13 and Judith Lessow-Hurley the evening of November 17, and encourage all parents to attend!

This radio program made it clear that most of the country sees bilingual education as innovative on its own, and the overarching message is that there is a wealth of research on learning that most schools are not taking into practice.

IMG_1948At ISTP, not only is bilingual education the base of our program, but we innovate and take brain-based research into account as we continue to enhance our programs.  Over the past number of years, we have put more emphasis on learning through doing, and of practicing what we learn in real-life situations. With our new and continuing campus renovations, we are facilitating more collaboration, creativity, and innovation amongst our students. Our international trips put a child’s whole education to the test and give students the opportunity to grow even more.

Specific academic enhancements such as the development of a computer science curriculum and the integration of Singapore Math into both programs’ math curricula are based on what brain-based research has shown to be valuable in education. Even the expansion of our physical education program during and after the school day is grounded in what is best for learning.

Our new school-wide learning standards emphasize all of these aspects of education, as we help students learn to become creative, curious, independent, confident, and collaborative.

Moments like these, when other, seemingly unrelated sources reaffirm the choices that one has made, are so uplifting. The back-to-school time is always one that fills me with energy and excitement, and to have so many meaningful connections to the core of what we do at ISTP filled me with pride and confidence.

IMG_2453I feel doubly grateful – as an educator, to be able to be a part of giving close to 600 students such a rich experience, and as a parent, to be able to give this kind of education to my children.

In case I needed any last confirmation of all of these good feelings and connections, last week my two year old pointed to a school bus and cried “Mummy!!! bus d’ecole!!!” I realized that even though we barely speak any French at home, she had learned this from her big sister (now in K), and was already embarking on her own bilingual journey, with an appropriately back-to-school themed first French word.

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