Come Aug. 21, Atlanta International School in Buckhead will open its new doors to 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds ready to learn German, Spanish or French.
“The idea began with the foundation of the school 26 years ago,” said Kevin Glass, the school’s headmaster. “The school has been undergoing phenomenal growth and in the last couple of years, we’ve basically had the time and space in this growth curve to be able to put our energies into the youngest learners.”
The Early Learning Center can hold about 130 children and eight teachers, and will be divided up into a “3K program” for 3- and 4-year-olds and a “4K program” for 4- and 5-year-olds.
Glass described the center to have a “residential, home-away-from-home feeling” with bright lights and natural tones.
“It is designed around a horseshoe [shape]. The classrooms are in the core arcs of the horseshoe and spill out into the courtyard gardens,” he said. “We wanted to have the indoor classrooms contiguous with outdoor garden classroom spaces.”
Glass said the center has a “full language-immersion, inquiry-based” program, and students will be operating entirely in the language of choice within a few weeks.
“We know from research and common sense that the younger you start with a really good program that’s based on inquiry and experiential education and wonderment and harnessing that curiosity that’s at the heart of every child, the better it is for their brain development, intellectual development and gross and motor skill development,” he said.
Glass said the students will automatically and subconsciously look at every problem or concept through two different languages.
Director of Admissions Reid Mizell was a founding board member and parent of the school. Her daughter Callie was in first grade when the school started and is now a veterinarian.
Mizell said the school’s faculty believes language is a “gateway to culture” and goes hand-in-hand with its overall vision.
“Part of our mission in our school is [to] grow young people who can contribute to the world,” she said. “We think having a perspective that allows you a level of comfort in multiple cultures is important.”
The center’s students will be immersed 100 percent in the “target language” to prepare them for the “dual-language program,” which runs from 5K to fifth grade when the kids switch between “English days” and “Spanish days,” according to Dusty Fretwell, head of the lower primary school.
“The earlier they can start that foundation and have more time acquiring the language, the better equipped they will be,” Fretwell said. “They will have a much stronger knowledge and capacity to work in that language. … It’s keeping connections alive that may otherwise close up.”
Glass said the school will have about 1,100 students ages 3 to 18 enrolled for the 2012-13 school year.
His 4-year-old daughter Lillian will begin her first year at the school immersed in German.