The International School of Arizona (ISA), located at 96th Street and Via Linda in Scottsdale, is a French and Spanish immersion program for kids ages 18 months through eighth grade. What began 22 years ago as a school for French residents working in Scottsdale is now a fully accredited school that immerses children from a young age into the French or Spanish language and culture.
Jason Smith, ISA's new head of school, recently moved to Scottsdale with his family to take the helm. Smith has extensive experience in language schools. Before his most recent assignment in Omaha, Nebraska, he taught overseas in Dubai and Qatar.
Children begin at ISA as early as 18 months. Although they don't go through formal language training at that age, the kids are immersed in either French or Spanish, depending on the parents' choice.
"When they start the program at 18 months," explains Smith, "they have a native French or Spanish speaker. The teacher interacts with the students all day in that language."
As children grow, the school introduces official learning. ISA uses both BICS (Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills) and CALP (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency) language education. This blends social use of language with formal academic training. Smith explains that kids in the early grades, K-5, have an 80/20 split of foreign language and English.
"Much of the core academic areas are taught in the second language and they also have a specific literacy block in English," says Smith. "Art is integrated, music specialists, PE specialists."
Kids in grades 6 to 8 have closer to a 50/50 split between English and the second language.
"The language gets more sophisticated beyond the social language and the playground language. They are also getting that academic language. The idea is that when kids leave us in eighth grade they're prepared for high school and they're fully fluent in that second language."
But it's more than language. At ISA, students are not just learning a second language, they are learning in that language.
Smith explains that the program is about developing a global perspective.
"We hope they have the skills and competencies in understanding other cultures, learning and adapting to other cultures, and an appreciation and desire to learn more about other cultures. That increases our own understanding and helps build us as individuals within a large global society."
The aim, says Smith, is that "you could drop ISA kids off anywhere in the world. If it's not a country they have developed the language in, then they have the skills and competencies as a global learner as far as understanding other cultures and in learning and adapting other cultures to succeed." ISAZ.org