Mandarin-Immersion Preschool

Why not just provide a Mandarin class at our preschool? From a marketing perspective that might make sense due to the fact many parents are happy to find out a school is offering foreign language classes. However, it is not best practice. Adults who took foreign language classes are living proof! They often can say some introductory salutations and find the bathroom and that is about it (even for the adults who took several years of language in high school and college-

A Mandarin class exposes a student to another language, but does not engage the child in that language.  Mandarin immersion creates a similar environment as if the child actually would study abroad.  A child who is immersed in a foreign language environment for 4-7 years develops native level fluency. So just think about it, your child could be fully fluent in two languages by the time they are in elementary school. Why not give your child that gift?


Can a preschool truly change the trajectories of children’s lives?

Press Release-

North Charleston, SC April 22, 2016- Charleston Bilingual Academy (CBA), in Park Circle, is claiming that they are changing children’s lives. Their tagline is “Inspiring World Changers.” Preschool is often centered more on keep children safe, and teaching students basic cognitive, physical, and social skills preparing them for Kindergarten and beyond. However, the founder of CBA, Dr. Nathan Johnson, contends that preschoolers actually are geniuses in one area, and their aptitude is usually left untapped. That area is language.

Educators refer to preschoolers as “concrete thinkers.” While they have great memories, their thinking is one-dimensional. For example, a 4 year old has incredible capacity to know the names of several symbols such as letters and numbers. They can even learn many “site words”, recognizing the names for more complex symbols such as “cat”, “hat”, and “bat”. Although a preschooler can recognize the letter “A” (one dimension), he is usually not able to attach a sound to the letter and then connect it to the sounds of other letters. Reading phonetically requires multi dimensional thinking. Similarly, where a preschooler can count 1 to 10, she is less likely to understand the quantities that are symbolized by the numbers 1-10.

Dr. Johnson explains that preschoolers are not critical thinkers, however, the high neuroplasticity in their brain makes them experts at language acquisition. “We should be in awe” he explains “that babies go from no language to speaking. Adults only know how to learn a new language through their preexisting language. So how can a baby learn a language when they cannot translate it into a preexisting language?”

Dr. Patricia Kuhl, the co-director of the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences at the University of Washington, researches how babies form language based on the language(s) spoken to them. Her team has discovered that 6-month-old babies can detect the sounds of every language in the world, whereas 12 month old babies are only able to detect the sounds from the language(s) that they hear. Through training, however, a 12 month old can create new neural synapses that allow the baby to learn new sounds. Kuhl explains that due to high neuroplasticity, young children can acquire new sounds, and ultimately new languages. Older children, on the other hand, are unable to acquire language in this manner.

Dr. Johnson explains that as children are learning to read phonetically, they are inversely losing the ability to acquire new languages. Concrete thinkers are language geniuses, and as a child transitions to a multi-dimensional thinker, he is learning to read and losing their language expertise… forever. Johnson is emphatic that every young child, regardless of parental level of education and socioeconomic status, is a language genius. Understanding the far reaching potential of preschoolers, Johnson started CBA 15 months ago, providing a chance for children to go to, in his own words, “not Spanish class, but Spanish country.” Through immersion, children are able to detect sounds, comprehend sounds, and eventually speak these sounds. Yet, realizing that many families do not have access to high quality preschool education, the school has already offered more than $50,000 in scholarships, in efforts to reach the North Charleston community.

Rosa Maria Cabrera, the Kindergarten teacher at CBA originally from Venezuela, adds “imagine how the trajectory of a child’s life changes, when they walk into elementary school speaking and reading in 2 languages.”

Playing to the strength of a preschooler, Charleston Bilingual Academy is doing what they have set out to do, changing lives and inspiring future world changers.


Kuhl, P.  (February 18, 2011.) “The Linguistic Genius of Babies,” video talk on, a TEDxRainier event.


What do you ask your child when you pick him/her up?

Questions are pivotal to parenting. So often our good “talks” are just that- us talking and our kids listening. But what are our kids saying? What are they thinking? Well, what questions are we asking? I firmly believe that our questions not only help reveal their souls, but also form their souls. If that is true, then what are the questions we are always asking?

Let’s just use one scenario. You will probably pick your child up from school at least 2340 times. So what is the first thing you ask? If you ask the same question 2340 times, you will reveal what is important to you, and in time it will become important to them.  Personally, instead of asking my son “What did you do today?” I am trying to ask him first, “Did you protect anyone today?” That question complements the other question I always ask my 3 year old, “Why did God give you such big muscles?”, to which he responds, “to protect my sisters and friends.” Thinking of others, as well caring for, defending and protecting them is essential to being a man. I want my son to understand and live a manly life, so I want to ask him manly questions.

More questions to learn our children’s hearts

Building off of the last blog, if you are like me its difficult to remember good questions to ask our children when they are in the middle of misbehaving. And sometimes, I get caught up in the moment and focus on punitive measures verses correction (teaching). But, is our goal not to train/teach our children to love God and others?  Otherwise we get in caught in this tide of behaviorism, where we bribe and reward good behavior and attack misbehavior with threats and discipline. Can we not train a lab rat the same way? Yet, our kids are infinitely more significant than rats, for they are image-bearers of the Creator God.

The grounding premise in correcting our children is this: Hearts drive behavior. If we simply treat the behavior, then we are raising our kids like animals. Yet, if we diligently seek to know their hearts, then we can treat them as image-bearers of God, training them to love Him and others (we cannot get to know the heart of a rat). So that is where questions are vital, they open the window to our children’s souls.  When my son hits his sister and I ask him “Why?” I have simply asked a lazy question (refer to the last blog), that will inevitably give me an unenlightening answer. Here are other questions I could ask (taken from Shepherding a Child’s Heart-Ted Tripp, p.80):

What were you feeling when you hit your sister?

What did your sister do to make you made?

Help me understand how hitting her seemed to make things better?

What was the problem with what she was doing to you? (You need not deny the fact that your child has been sinned against. Of course, he was sinned against. Let him tell you about it.)

In what other ways could you have responded?

How do you think your response reflected trust or lack of trust in God’s ability to provide for you?

These questions allow us to see into the heart that overflowed into the action of hitting. Tripp goes onto say there are 3 areas to address in this dialogue: 1)the nature of temptation, 2) the possible responses to this temptation, 3) his own sinful/selfish response.



Ask your preschooler better questions

You pick your child up from school and start to drive. Like clockwork (your child knows its coming), you ask, “What did you do in school today?” Or if you are especially enlightened, you will ask “What did you learn today?” To which you hear in the back seat a light murmur, prompting you to repeat the question with more earnest. You then hear the unenthused reply, “Dunno.”

You look in the rearview mirror, expecting to see a teenager looking back at you. Nope, its a preschooler. And then your mind starts running, “Why in tarnation am I paying money for preschool, when I am not even sure he is learning anything…”

Well, lets take another layer off of the onion. Here is even a more predictable question that your child can count on: Scenario– your son for the 200th time (this week) has taken a toy away from his little sister. She starts screaming at the perfect frequency that causes your blood to boil. You pull your son aside and ask… “Why did you take that toy from your sister?”

Truthfully, I have asked my son the “Why” interrogation at least 293 times. And he has faithfully provided one of three answers: 1)silence, 2) shoulder shrug 3) or should he feel especially talkative, I will get “dunno.” And you would think after 292 times I would learn to change my question. Nope. I will ask it again tomorrow.

Have you ever thought the problem is with the question? We are asking an open-ended, critical analysis question of a “concrete” thinker.

Proverbs 20:5 says “the ways of human hearts are like deep waters, and wise is the one who can draw them out.” What questions are the right buckets that will draw the deep waters out of our children, allowing us to see into their hearts?

Well, my wife and I are reading Ted Tripp’s book “Shepherding a Child’s Heart” for the umpteenth time. And he provides 5 questions to ask your children after they have disobeyed, allowing you to uncover what is really going on in their heart. And note: he does not ask “Why?”

5 Questions To Get At Your Child’s Heart by Paul Tripp

  1. What was going on? This question is designed to simply get a sense of what was going on. Don’t worry about biases. It’s impossible to recount something without biases. Your child does it. You do it.
  2. What were you thinking/feeling as it was happening? This question gets after the heart. You need to understand that no matter where you are, no matter what the situation is, your heart is constantly operating…you’re always interpreting, always worshipping, always desiring or wanting something.
  3. What did you do in response? This goes after words and behavior. With this question we’re teaching our children (and ourselves for that matter) that the behavior and words that came out in the situation were not formed by the situation but by how my heart reacted to the situation. This is very important!
  4. What were you seeking to accomplish? This question gets after motives, goals, purposes, etc. What we’ve done is bracketed behavior with the thoughts and motives, interpretations, desires of the heart…Hebrews 4:12-13 – the heart is always thinking and always desiring. Your behavior is always the result of what you’re thinking and what you desire?
  5. What was the result? This question gets after consequences.




Why your preschooler should clean out your car…

It took me 2 hours to clean out our two cars today. It should have taken 1 hour. Yet I didn’t lose any time. How’s that? I had help.


Yes, because I had help, I did not lose any time, yet it took me twice as long to complete the task.  My 2 1/2 year old rotated turns with me vacuuming the cars out. And he was quite insistent on his turns lasting as long as my turns.  So often as parents, we are tempted to not let our tots help us around the house, whether we are cooking, sweeping, or cleaning the car. Why? Because we can do it a lot faster on our own.  But why are we so caught up in this rat race? Perhaps we hurry up to finish work so we can play. Yet, maybe that is the fault in our logic.  Maybe we should learn from our preschoolers that we can have fun working.

After teaching and being the headmaster of highschoolers for over a decade, student after student proved to me that work is no fun. Apparently they had matured, realizing the harsh truth of this world, to which preschoolers remain ignorant. Perhaps children grow up learning from parents that work is drudgery and Mondays suck.  And we labor through 40+ hours a week to get to do what we want to do after hours and on the weekend.

Hmmm. Research tells us that preschoolers love to explore and initiate.  By losing an hour today of my time, my son and I found great joy in a menial task. If I had rushed through cleaning the car, so I could then play with my kids, I would have missed 2 things: 1, I would have missed the fact that my son wanted to play through work, exploring how to use a really loud vacuum cleaner.  2. I would have missed out on an incredible lesson, I actually can have fun working.

Lesson of the day- allow our kids to slow us down and help us around the house. And realize that their help is not meant to make me more efficient, but instead teach me to enjoy work (and in turn preventing me from teaching my son to dread work).

Why does policy focus so much on literacy but not language?

Our school, Charleston Bilingual Academy, is in some ways an experiment. An experiment to prove policymakers and researchers are misguided.  We have this notion that education can save the world. They claim that our societal ills are ultimately caused by the lack of education.  Hence the assumption, if we can properly educate our citizenry, eliminating the paucity of knowledge, then we can cure problems that are endemic to our cities, especially among low-income groups.  In line with this theory, we have poured so much more money into education in the last 30 years, and beginning to include initiatives on the bookends- both before kindergarten and after 12th grade. The latest push for free community college is such an example.

On the front end, policies and massive amounts of funding have focused on early intervention like HeadStart and literacy initiatives.  And part of the theory is based on the clear research that the achievement gap (the difference in the mean academic performances between whites and minorities) already exists in Kindergarten and neither decreases or increases significantly over the 13 years of public education.

After 3 decades of investing time and money, generational poverty has only grown as has the great divide across socioeconomic groups.  What are we missing?

2 things.

First, families need to be impacted by real relationships, not policies and vouchers.  Schools have to be surrounded by people who truly want to love and serve them (not mercenaries). In my experience, this happens with special churches who truly want to live like they did back in the Book of Acts- its not a soup kitchen, its not a 9-5 ministry- its lives on lives- loving like Jesus loved us.

Secondly, the focus on literacy is admirable, but language comes first.  Think about it. There is no knowledge without language.  Research says the first 3 years of life are the most pivotal for language acquisition (Read our blog “How should a parent think about Preschool” to learn more about the physiological development of children). We must intentionally place our children in language-rich environments.  And it is here that I recommend that we create much higher standards- let’s place our children in bilingual contexts, giving them the gifts of two languages (or more- when I was a headmaster in Caracas, Venezuela many of our students were beautifully trilingual).  Imagine a child entering into Kindergarten with the confidence of knowing 2 languages and various cultures… As that child’s brain begins to change and he learns to read, he will crush the achievement gap! Well, we are doing our part in starting a Spanish-immersion preschool, bridging racial and socioeconomic barriers, changing the trajectory of lives by inspiring children to one day change the world.


4 things a parent should consider when choosing a preschool

What should a parent consider when choosing a preschool?

First, a parent should understand the brain of a young child (0-7ish years old) is fabulously different. The high plasticity of the lobes allow for children to take in great amounts of  information through their senses. They apply their senses through initiation, exploration, and creation. Yet, to learn this information, you need language.  If you think about it, humans cannot know and retain information without language. Language is the key to identifying and categorizing knowledge. Are there any concepts you know for which you have no language to describe them?

So what does language have to do with the brain? The language center of the brain is found in the convergence of all of the lobes (which makes sense since a child sees someone speaking, processes the noise they hear, memorizes the significance connected to the noise, and thinks about what to communicate, and then moves her vocal cords, mouth, and lips- ultimately using the whole brain!). Therefore the malleability of the brain allows infants, toddlers, and young children to acquire language with excitement and not stress as they explore the world.

The high plasticity of the brain keeps children from being reasoning thinkers, but allows them to learn language to organize and retain all of the information they are learning. As a result, preschoolers are concrete thinkers and language geniuses (to learn more about preoperational verses reasoning thinkers read our blog How should a parent think about preschool). Once the lobes in the brain begin to solidify, children’s capacities to think multidimensionally takes off, yet at the same time, their ability to acquire language at the native level decreases.

So with this understanding of the child’s brain, what are the 4 most important questions a parent should ask when looking for a preschool?

Is a child safe and loved well?  Children will not learn nor want to learn if they do not feel safe and loved.  A child should both love preschool and be loved at preschool (no exceptions). It might take a short transition for a child to grow accustomed to the preschool, but if he remains unhappy there, the parents has the responsibility to remove him. I often joke in saying- let middle and high school kill a child’s desire to learn, but not preschool!

Does the environment encourage exploration, initiation, and creation? A concrete thinker is invigorated by independence and settings that pique their curiosity.  Does the preschool’s inside and outside  environments elicit curiosity? Even more importantly, does the teacher create spectacular opportunities for student exploration, initiation and creation?

Does the environment encourage reflection, socialization and collaboration?  Preschoolers are learning to know the world around them, themselves, and others.  Yes, independence and initiation are extremely important at this age, but collaboration is tantamount.  These early years are pivotal for children to learn independence (initiation), interdependence (teamwork), and obedience (following instructions). Therefore, the parent should get a sense of the teacher’s leadership, intentional focus on both reflection and collaboration, as well as what kinds of children the parents want their child to know and learn about? As a parent, do you want your children to meet and know children who only come from the same culture, or other cultures?  It is important to note that early exposure to multiple cultures has lasting impact on a person’s acceptance and enjoyment of cultures different than his own.

Does the preschool intentionally develop language? Parents need to realize they are making a life long decision for their child in the area of language? If they only want their child to be proficiently fluent at the native level in one language, then they should pursue a preschool (or other learning environments) that intentionally develops that language. If a parent prioritizes the ability for her child to speak more than one language at the native level, then she must pursue an immersion based preschool. Language classes are too little, and elementary, middle, and high school opportunities are way too late.  Basically, if you want your child to achieve fluency, you have to drop them off in a foreign country several days a week for 4-7 years. A dual-immersion preschool, in essence, provides that foreign language experience without having to put your toddler on a plane.


5 Myths on Bilingual Education

Bilingual Preschool guru, Ana Lomba, has written an excellent explanation that addresses concerns parents often have about bilingual education.

Here is the excerpt, taken from her book Spanish for Preschoolers E Guide:

Myth #1: Young children may get confused if learning in two languages Many people may believe this because young bilingual children do mix their languages. However, this is normal and to be expected, not something to worry about. ALL, and I mean ALL­ ONE­ HUNDRED­ PERCENT of bilingual children mix their two languages (or three or four) at times. This does not mean that they are confused. Quite the opposite, the process of sifting two languages has been shown to do wonders to the executive area of the brain (the “Prefrontal Cortex,” which controls some of the most sophisticated human forms of expression). As they grow up, bilingual children become increasingly more adept at controlling the two languages and using one or the other (or both) on demand.

Myth #2: Children learning two languages are slower linguistically or academically. People may believe this because young bilingual children have less vocabulary than monolinguals in either of the two languages. However, when the vocabulary of the two languages is put together, bilingual children know the same amount of words, on average, as monolinguals. Of course, bilingual children keep adding vocabulary in both languages as time goes on.

Let’s take a look at the following scenario. A young bilingual child may know the colors “red, azul, yellow, amarillo, morado, green, verde” and a monolingual child may know “green, blue, red, purple, orange.” Both children can identify five colors, and the bilingual child actually knows the name of two of those colors in the two languages. However, If tested with the typical battery test created for English speakers, the bilingual child will seem to know only three colors, as opposed to the monolingual who knows five. These tests do not measure the language wealth of bilingual children correctly.Please also be aware that many tests advertised as “bilingual” do not do a good job of measuring bilingual children either [This was an important topic of discussion at a conference at Princeton University].

So bilingual kids are not slower than monolinguals. In fact, studies have shown that children who have developed an advanced proficiency in two languages and cultures do not struggle more academically than monolingual children. Moreover, children who have developed strong proficiency in two languages many times end up surpassing monolinguals in math and even in English – and on top of that they speak two languages!

Myth #3: Young Children Are Sponges Young children have auditory advantages over adults. It has been said that “babies are citizens of the world” because newborn babies can hear all the different sounds of human languages. However, this amazing ability is quickly trimmed out in favor of the language or languages to which the baby is exposed to on a regular basis. Adults, on the other hand, have trouble detecting foreign language sounds.

All of the above being said, children are not sponges. Even children growing up in bilingual homes do not always learn their home language well. Some do not even speak it (they have become “passive bilinguals”).

Myth # 4: It Is Better to Wait Until They Are Older Not a good way to go! As a matter of fact, world language instruction has traditionally been introduced in high school with very dismal results (the grammar approach so frequently used in high school has not exactly helped either). Consultant Greg Duncan compared world languages education in the USA to an inverted pyramid: schools offer the least amount of instruction (if any) at the prime time for learning languages (early childhood), and the largest amount of instruction at one of the most difficult times for learning languages (high school). With such a weak foundation, it is no wonder that the pyramid tumbles and falls.

There are many advantages for starting early. Here are a few:

• Auditory and oral motor. As we mentioned above, young children do indeed have auditory advantages over older children and adults. Dr. Patricia Kuhl has done many studies on the issue. I invite you to watch her video presentation “The Linguistic Genius of Babies.” Some people dismiss these advantages as not important, but as time goes on and you lose them it becomes increasingly harder to reach a level of pronunciation that will be understood by natives. Sometimes a thick accent interferes so much that native speakers of the language cannot understand what the person is saying. This is even more of an obstacle when the rhythm and intonation (i.e. the “prosody”) of the languages is very different. For example, this is very much the case when English speakers learn Mandarin and vice versa, but it can happen with Spanish too.

•“Affective Filter” (Stephen Krashen). The younger the child, the less impact factors such as social pressure and self‐awareness have on classroom performance (these factors are at their peak in middle school and high school). As a matter of fact, most toddlers and preschoolers do not even blink about playing in a different language and they find it fun!

•Learning dynamics. Starting late is not a good strategy for schools and it is even worse for homes. My inbox is full of e‐mails from bilingual parents who waited to introduce their home language to their children thinking that they would get confused, and now find it very difficult to make up for lost time. Unfortunately, it is very hard to change the home language dynamics when children are older (but not impossible). In general, the earlier children get used to a language‐learning routine the easier it will be for everyone involved.

•Brain development. Learning a language is one of the best exercises for the brain, and a growing number of studies are showing its effects on cognition and other areas of human development. While this is true for all ages, obviously we may want to stimulate our children and provide them with the best possible educational experiences from the very beginning.

•Time. Finally, even with the best strategies and methods, it takes many years to acquire an advanced level in a language. Therefore, the earlier the start, the better the chances of becoming fluent.

How should a parent think about preschool

Preschool education is an interesting concept to say the least. Parents marvel when their 21 month old is already naming colors and the numbers 1 and 2. Often they think, “Well if they are learning that much and that quickly with me at home, then by 3 they should be learning how to read and add numbers.” If the 3 year old preschool then reports they are making crafts, collaborating, and playing, then the parents become afraid the child is not learning, which means they are wasting money and losing an opportunity for their child to learn.

But as parents, we forget what it is like to be a preschooler, and we think of preschool through our adult minds. The reality is preschool children are concrete thinkers (as opposed to reasoners). This begins to change somewhere between 4-7 years old. And whether a child starts using reason at 4 or at 7 does not signify the child is slow, no more than one child hitting puberty at 11 and another at 14. It is just their genetic make up.  Concrete thinkers are physiologically very different than reasoners, which is why we must take caution when we evaluate preschools with our adult minds and without research.

Concrete thinking is extremely important, and it makes perfect sense that it would come before reasoning (another proof that God knows what he is doing!).  At this stage  children are exploring the world, learning to initiate, communicate, and collaborate.  The lobes in their brain are malleable.  This is important for 2 reasons, it allows them to take in new experiences with completely open minds, and it allows a fluid convergence between the lobes- which is where you find the language center (Wernicke and Broca areas).  Visual (occipital), auditory (temporal), conscious thinking (frontal), memory and emotion (limbic) all come together for the brain to form speech.  Children in these early stages are physiologically primed to learn about the world and to express themselves through language.

Once children start becoming reasoning thinkers, major adjustments are occurring in their brain structure which will continue through puberty. The lobes become much more structured/solidified. Initially this is great for learning to read, adding, and subtracting. Later, it allows for deep critical and abstract thinking.  One example of this is my brother-in-law took Algebra when he was 12. While many girls in his class were achieving high results (more physically developed), he struggled awfully. Yet, he is now studying engineering. His struggles had nothing to do with deficiencies in math, they had everything to do with the fact his brain was still changing and he was not ready to grasp extremely abstract concepts such as Algebra. Another example is my 2 year old calls every quantity either 1 (singular) or two (plural), yet my 5 1/2 year old nephew can add 2+3. The younger knows names for quantities via comparisons (bigger and smaller), but the older sees each number as an individual quantity (two is different than three, because three is one more than two, and five is three more than two…).

My goal in this blog has been to establish, from a biological perspective, that preschoolers are very different physiologically from older children.  So as parents and educators, our goal is not to grow them up faster than their brain will allow, our goal must be, train them appropriately for what their brain is ready to process. (Now don’t misunderstand me, concrete thinkers and can think critically, but it should be in the said areas, and a joyful experience, not stressful. For example, I can ask my 2 year old to go stand on the picture of the item that starts a car. He will then look at 5 different pictures on our floor and then go stand on a picture of car keys).

What are preschools ready to process?  They are ready to process the world through exploration. They are ready to process relationships through interaction. They are ready to process emotions through self control.  They are  become aware of themselves through initiation, creation, and reflection. And most, most, most importantly, they are learning how to express themselves through language.  And they are ready to do all of this in an enjoyable play-based environment (not strapped to desks!).  Leave classes like Algebra to reasoning thinkers who are well into puberty, but focus on language with concrete thinkers.  They are language geniuses. Concrete thinkers have the ability to listen, learn, and imitate language which reasoners are unable to do (after 7 years old, we have lost our opportunity to acquire language at the native level).

So as you look for a preschool… If you are looking for a junior league Harvard, you run a great risk of stressing your child and destroying their desire to learn. You should be looking for a place where children initiate, explore, collaborate, create, and communicate.  It should be play-based, yet with structure and routines. Your child should love preschool, and should also be loved at preschool. It should be a caring/ nurturing  environment. And it is here that I speak to the overachieving parent- if you want to make the most of their cognitive abilities, don’t look for more reading and math, looking for opportunities to develop LANGUAGE.  Give your child the gift of learning more than one language. If you wait for middle school it is too late. If you provide a video or Spanish class here and there, it is too little. If you place them in a language immersion environment, it is perfect.

Spanish-Immersion Preschool

Why not just provide a Spanish class at our preschool? From a marketing perspective that might make sense due to the fact many parents are happy to find out a school is offering Spanish classes. However, it is not best practice. Adults who took foreign language classes are living proof! They often can say some introductory salutations and find the bathroom and that is about it (even for the adults who took several years of language in high school and college-

A Spanish class exposes a student to another language, but does not engage the child in that language.  Spanish immersion creates a similar environment as if the child actually would study abroad.  A child who is immersed in a foreign language environment for 4-7 years develops native level fluency. So just think about it, your child could be fully fluent in two languages by the time they are in elementary school. Why not give your child that gift?

The Charleston Bilingual Academy Story (3 of 3)

At the age of 35, I have lived long enough to know I do not want my life dedicated to money. Money is not a purpose, it does not introduce me to invisible strangers who live noble lives, it does not run to my door when I come home and throw its arms around me, and it definitely does not give besitos. I want to change the world; that’s what I want.  And even more than that, I want to raise my children to change the world. And even more, I want to help other parents raise their children to change the world.

So then I ask, “How do we do that via education?”  Well, I look at education through various lenses. The teacher in me thinks about it practically. The doctor thinks about it theoretically.  The dad thinks about it idealistically.

So what does that mean? It probably means I have gone crazy. It also probably means that I am investing all my money and time into a bad business idea.  And yet, are these not the essential ingredients to make change- if changing the world was for sane people, then it would happen all of the time 🙂

The teacher, doctor, and dad have consulted together to create a school where whites, blacks, yellows, and reds come together, where wealthy, middle class, and poor come together, where very very different cultures come together- not just children, but whole families. We establish the schools on principles of quality, efficiency, and community- intentionally enrolling all types of people. Then, we start every morning with family literacy time, where parents (of all colors) sit next to each other and read with their children.  We will actively learn together, as a community, how to overcome language, cultural, and residential barriers.  It will be a school where we (old and young alike) learn to paint with our souls… using every color.

In a phrase, here is our mission: In partnership with parents, Charleston Bilingual Academy  creates a loving, innovative, and Christ-centered learning environment that inspires children to become world changers through lingual, cognitive, physical, emotional, social, cultural, and spiritual development.

Why do I know it will work? First, I can look other teachers, doctors, and dads in the eyes and tell them I am building my dream school for my own children.   Secondly, I know it will work because it is ridiculously backed by research (check out the blog)- bilingual education combined with best practices is uniquely powerful! Finally, my hunch goes back to my research at Furman, once you begin to see and taste the beauty of other cultures, you will not want to go back to a homogenous life, nor will you want that for your children. After all, that is the obvious reaction when we get a foretaste of heaven.

As I recount this story, I realize that ultimately this tapestry is being painted by the Great Artist, Jesus.  And as we experience his beauty, leading, and love, we look forward to creating a school where kids also experience his beauty and love, and are equipped to then go change the world for Him (and by Him).

SDG, Nate


The Charleston Bilingual Academy Story (2 of 3)

In Caracas, I met a culture where strangers are brought home and given a traditional dinner… week after week. So I entered casa after casa, eating in red, yellow, purple and orange kitchens.  After months, it slowly dawned on me why their homes were painted with such bright colors. They paint with their souls. That’s how they live- colorfully… relationally… joyfully…  That is who they are.  It is who I have become.

I taught a year in Caracas, then returned to start a Hispanic church in Greenville, SC. However, a year later I returned to Caracas as director of the same international school.  The besito called me back. I had given my heart to a Venezolana- Rossana Cabrera. That was almost 12 years ago, and as I write she has my heart even more.

To fast forward, we married seven years ago and moved to Charleston 3 years later (4 years ago).  For the first 3 years in Charleston, I served as principle of an excellent school, Palmetto Christian Academy. Concurrently, I was studying my doctorate at Vanderbilt (traveling to Nashville for 54 weekends over 3 years).  While principaling and studying,  we had our first boy two years ago, Elliot Courage (I guess there was time for study breaks).

This past year I served as the director of international development in a software curriculum company, and we also had our second child, Risa (Risa means laughter in Spanish).

This past May proved to be a culmination and genesis point. I had finished an entire doctorate on education in urban contexts, had 9 years of school administration under my belt, and had worked for a year leveraging cutting edge technology to empower education in incredible ways. And while I have always wondered what I would do when I grew up,  the question now stared me in the face…. Charleston Bilingual Academy?


continue the story…

The Charleston Bilingual Academy Story (1 of 3)

“Hey, let’s go create an inner city private school named Charleston Bilingual Academy. Then we will strategically target all ethnicities and socioeconomic statuses.  Oh, and let’s do it in the heart of the South.”  Hmmmm, I have definitely met with some business savvy people who have looked me in the eye and wondered if I am crazy. Am I?

This journey started 15 years ago, when I was a junior in college. I was conducting research on Hispanic immigration for one of my history courses at Furman.  When I decided on the topic, my professor was quick to warn me that there was no literature in the field, and that I would have to conduct my own qualitative research.  And so I did. I interviewed every Hispanic I came in contact with, asking personal questions and meriting more than once getting kicked out of an establishment.  Quickly I saw a metanarrative; men risking their lives to cross the border, in search of a job where they could support their families, providing food and sending their children to better schools.  Over and over I met with men who lived in the US for over a decade before they were able to bring their family here and be reunited. I met men and women alike, old and young, with tired brows and firm handshakes, who worked two to three jobs, lived with various families under one roof, and sent money back home to take care of relatives.

After a few months, as I commuted in my car and watched Hispanics walk the streets between their jobs and homes, I started subconsciously reacting.  I realized I had never seen them before.  It was as though they quietly pursued invisibility, yet they lived loud lives of sacrifice, courage, and family. Drawn to such nobility, I began studying more Spanish, wanting to conocer not just saber (to know personally not just factually) who are Latins. After teaching for a year at my alma mater, Dorman High School, I moved to Caracas, Venezuela to teach in an international school, learn the Spanish language, and develop relationships with Caraqueños.  In my first year there, I learned the beauty of large families, loud parties, big hugs, and yes, besitos…

 continue the story…