After years of leading schools, studying my doctorate at Peabody/Vanderbilt, and starting to educate my own children, I have forged some strong convictions about education. For starters, schools should focus more on teaching students how to think instead of what to think. For example, a student might not use the water cycle he learns about in 4th grade to apply to a university or for a job one day (not to mention all of us forget most things that we memorize within days). However, a child who understands cause and effect, the flow of processes, and design and purpose, will not just be able to explain the water cycle, but be able to transfer such knowledge to other domains (which is exactly the kind of applicant that admission offices and bosses want). Secondly, we should maximize learning according to the students’ readiness (developmental appropriateness). For instance, you can teach a child to read before he is neurologically ready, but he will associate reading with stress, whereas a child who learns to read when he is ready will associate reading with positive emotions and more likely becoming a self-driven, life long reader.
Based on our context in Charleston, many preschools teach students how to think and so through developmentally-appropriate instruction. Whether you call it “child-centered”, “whole-child”, “play-based”, or refer to philosophies such as “Montessori”, “Waldorf”…, these are developmentally-based strategies to teach children how to learn (cognitively, physically, socially, emotionally…). Charleston has a strong preschool market and you can choose from many schools where your child will excel in these areas while also in a caring environment (as long as there is not a waiting list!). However, these schools are not addressing the short window where children can acquire another language with native fluency. Fluency does not come from short language classes. Students need 4-7 years in an immersion environment to gain such fluency.
The Clapham Group is able to leverage its strong relationships with the local and international Latino networks and combine it with best practices in child-centered, play-based curriculum, to provide Charleston with its first Spanish immersion preschool. From ages 3-5, students will receive 50% of their instruction/activities in Spanish and 50% in English. In 2014 we will add a Kindergarten program, and in 2015-2016, the school will add first grade. We will then consecutively add 2nd-8th grade over the following 7 years. Based on comparable markets in Atlanta, Jacksonville, Charlotte, and Greenville, the school will not be able to accommodate the demand, creating a waiting list for parents who wish to enroll their children. As parents consider the full research, they are realizing that children in a dual-immersion preschool will achieve every skill that is offered in the top preschools throughout the city, while also acquiring a second language. They are choosing immersion programs because they know their child will lose that opportunity in just a few years.