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foreign language immersion school set to open next year in cleveland


Educational opportunities for Cleveland grade-schoolers could soon expand with the addition of a new foreign language immersion school in the 2015-16 school year. Last February, the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) gave the Global Ambassadors Language Academy (GALA) the thumbs up on a new charter school for children in kindergarten through grade eight.
 
"This is going to be the first foreign language immersion school in the region," notes GALA's founder Meran Rogers, adding that it will also be the first Mandarin immersion school in the state.
 
"Outside of our country, attending a school where you're immersed in another language is typical," says Rogers. She should know. She taught at an immersion school in Taiwan for a year and saw the benefits it brought to children there. The experience made Rogers wonder, why don't we have this here? And GALA was born.
 
The new charter school expects to open for the 2015/2016 school year offering Spanish and Mandarin programs, although Rogers hopes to expand in the coming years, particularly with Portuguese and Arabic programs. Upcoming milestones for the school include getting a preliminary agreement filed with the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) next March, and a formal contract between CMSD and GALA filed with ODE next May. The group is optimistic that these procedures will go smoothly as GALA plans to begin hiring staff in February and start enrolling students in March. They are currently accepting intent to enroll forms for their inaugural year.
 
Enrollment is free for all Ohio residents. GALA will receive the standard state and federal per-pupil allocations. Private donors have included the Albert B and Audrey G. Ratner Family Foundation, RPM International Inc. and Margaret Wong & Associates. Rogers is also hopeful that GALA's application of a $653,000 federal three-year grant will be approved in the coming days.
 
GALA will announce the school's location in December, after completing a series of community information meetings (tonight, Oct. 4, Oct. 8 and Oct. 9, RSVP required). Information gleaned from those gatherings and the intent to enroll forms, such as where students live, will determine the school's location. GALA is considering three potential spots, although Rogers will not disclose details except that all three are in Cleveland proper with one on the west side of town, one on the east side and one in the middle.
 
In addition to her international teaching experience, Rogers has another more personal reason for starting the venture.
 
"I grew up in Cleveland and both of my parents were immigrants. I grew up speaking a blend of four languages: Polish, Taiwanese, Chinese and English," she says, adding that the confusion over language caused the Cleveland Public Schools to label her as a special education student instead of one with English as a second language. When she transferred to Lakewood Public Schools in second grade, the mistake was corrected. Nonetheless, Rogers still carries negative feelings over the experience and disappointment that her diversity wasn't valued and nurtured.
 
"I grew up feeling that my culture and my languages were a burden—something that needed to be done away with—to assimilate," she says. "If I offer students in similar situations a program that embraces their culture and diversity—or other cultures and diversity—I think that's good for our community."
 
Rogers stresses that GALA is not targeting Mandarin or Spanish speaking students. "It's actually just the opposite," she says. "Our model is to target English speaking students."
 
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