LaSalle Language Academy is an elementary magnet school with a world language focus. It was transformed from a neighborhood school in the 1970s, and has the mission of teaching students basic communication skills in one of five different languages. All students learn either French, German, Italian, Mandarin or Spanish for 180 minutes per week, from kindergarten through 8th grade.
As a culminating experience, 8th grade students are given the opportunity to participate in the Language and Cultural Immersion Exchange Program. Participants travel to the target country, and get real life experience using the skills they have been accumulating since kindergarten, as they communicate for two weeks in a family stay environment.
LaSalle currently sends three groups overseas each year (France and Spain annually, Germany and Italy on alternate years). Approximately 40-50 students’ travel each year in the fall or spring. Mandarin was introduced at LaSalle in 2006, and while students have not yet traveled to China, plans are being made to start an exchange program with a school in Shenyang, China, starting in 2010-2011.
Eligibility and fundraising
Only a select group of students are selected to travel abroad each year. Student participation is based on both academic performance as well as high standards of citizenship. Through multiple fundraising activities, the school has a scholarship fund to help ensure that all eligible students can participate, including those who need financial assistance.
In April, students visited Montauban, France, and Landsberg, Germany. A typical day on the exchange trip included several hours of class, and shadowing exchange partners, followed by an outing to a place of historical or cultural interest. In the evening the students, along with their exchange partners, go to after-school activities and then head home for an evening with their host families, immersed in authentic language. For many students this is the most intense part of the trip.
Highlights of the trip included:
- Visiting the medieval fortified city of Carcassonne to learn about the Wars of Religion
- Spending a day participating in hands-on activities at a prehistoric camp, making primitive cave paintings and comparing the efficiency of tools used to kill a mock woolly mammoth (bales of hay).
- Observing and reflecting on the differences in recycling programs and energy conservation
- Joining local 8th grade students to learn about the Underground Railroad and spirituals
Students enjoyed seeing the pages of their history books come to life as they traveled through Montauban and Landsberg. In addition to exploring a world different from their own, students also made lasting friendships, and solidified communication skills that they’ve been learning since kindergarten.
At home and abroad
In addition to this unique opportunity to travel overseas, LaSalle students also have the opportunity to host their exchange partner in Chicago for two weeks. This year LaSalle hosted students from Barcelona, Spain, Montauban, France, and Piacenza, Italy. Next year students will also receive visitors from Landsberg, Germany.
Through these early language experiences, LaSalle hopes to instill in its students a love of language, an understanding of and empathy for other cultures, and a desire to build on these experiences in high school and beyond.
Learn more about LaSalle Language Academy.
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