I have four children, from first grade to junior high school. Like any parent, I want them to get the best education possible. My mother is from Panama, and Spanish is her first language. That has always made me value language education. As a society, I think it’s essential we educate American kids to speak at least one language besides English. Proficiency in foreign languages is getting increasingly important as technology makes the world smaller and smaller (you can only Zoom with someone if you can speak their language!). Individually, I also think exposure to foreign languages at a young age can unlock different parts of your brain and help you grow and develop. There are plenty of studies to back that up.
For all those reasons, I loved the French Immersion Program run by our local public school in Norman, Oklahoma. It was unique; it was effective, and our kids enjoyed it. There were a lot of parents who moved to Norman specifically to put their kids into that program.
Unfortunately, our local superintendent announced that the program was being eliminated in 2016. I was devastated, as were many other parents whose kids were thriving in that program. When that announcement was made, many of us began to organize and consider our options.
We knew we wanted to continue a high-quality language immersion program in Norman. We also knew we wanted it to be widely available and open to the public, regardless of income level. The solution we arrived at was to form a new charter school.
Having a charter school is arduous; we needed studies demonstrating community support and viability. We didn’t have any outside help or money; this was just a group of parents telling ourselves, “we have to do this.” So we did. We met weekly for almost two years to make sure we were always making progress.
The local public school board opposed us all the way and rejected our charter application twice. Eventually, we took our appeal to the State School Board, where we prevailed in 2017 and got our charter approved (an appeal that had only recently been made possible by the Charter School Act, a law pushed by school choice proponents in 2015).
Today we have over 400 students from PreK to 8th grade, and we plan to add a grade of high school each year. We offer programs in both French and Spanish immersion.
Three of my children now attend Le Monde. My 1st and 5th graders participate in Spanish immersion, and my 8th grader does French. One of the things I love seeing from them is how open they are to meeting new and different people. It’s natural for people in school or even adults in the workplace to be intimidated by people who look or sound different from them. Our kids, though, have teachers speaking multiple languages from Mexico, Columbia, Congo, France, and several other countries. That’s made them more open to regular, friendly interactions with people who don’t necessarily look and sound like they grew up in central Oklahoma. They are also excited about visiting other countries. My son’s Christmas wish list included some video games – and a trip to Peru!
My experience helping to start Le Monde (where I now serve as President of the Board) has been eye-opening. It was a lesson in what is possible. The truth is, if parents demand choices and are willing to take action and put in the work, they will find doors open up for themselves and their families. Our mission should be to create more doors and make those choices easier.
If you’re reading this and are interested in Le Monde, or language immersion, or just want to see what options are available to you and your family in Norman, you can learn more about our school at https://www.lemondenorman.org/.