[box_light]Interview – Part One[/box_light]
I recently had the great pleasure of meeting and talking with Shelley Borror Jackson, Head of the International Academy of New York, an inspiring bilingual and multicultural school for early childhood education located on a charming street on Manhattan’s Upper East Side near the Metropolitan Museum. Having been introduced to Mrs. Jackson via communications from the Academy’s Music Teacher, a classical pianist and Guqin concert artist, Jiaoyue Lyu, and a Board Member of the Academy, Jingying Wu, I was delighted when we were able to schedule an interview session. After visiting the school’s website, it was truly enlightening fascinating to learn about the Academy’s innovative and highly effective bilingual and multicultural curriculum, arts programs and social events.
This advanced bilingual and global approach to early childhood education has enabled many young children to grow and excel academically, culturally and socially while communicating and bonding with others. As they form lasting and meaningful friendships with other children, teachers, staff members and classmates’ families, all of whom make up this warm, caring international community, young students are brought together by this special school to share the many benefits of its richly diverse environment and experience. Children study and become fluent in Mandarin Chinese or Spanish as well as English while developing all other necessary academic and communications skills.
This interview session offered the marvelous opportunity to discover more about this diverse, global approach to childhood education. language skills and cross-cultural understanding. As Shelley Borror Jackson reveals in the following fascinating discussion, she and her staff have truly created a vital and diverse, multicultural and multilingual environment in which young children can develop the varied talents, skills, knowledge, compassion and sensitivity needed to become true, valuable and ever-contributing citizens of the World.
[box_light]Interview – Part Two[/box_light]
Shelley, again, thank you so much for taking the time to enlighten us about the International Academy of New York. Now, I’d like to focus on a few more questions that might help many of us understand more about the programs you offer and how the children develop.
Q – Ellen: The academy website mentions that you offer pre-nursery and elementary school training with plans to add a grade each year through eighth grade. Do most of your students, if they live in New York, continue their childhood education through elementary and beyond?
A – Shelley: Actually, we’re a new school, and we’ve really only been in existence for three years, so we don’t have any kind of history on where our children go after the Academy. Our oldest student right now is second grade, so that’s our oldest class, and we’ll keep building every year with that senior class through eighth grade. We think about high school, but we have time to work that out.
Ellen: Yes, of course. That’s wonderful for both students and parents to look forward to. They can continue to study here, and then, for those who must move to other places, they take what they have learned here with them. It’s such a wonderful thing to know you can do that for children, and they can then—
Shelley: Be launched.
Q – Ellen: Your school website also mentions the cultural diversity of your faculty and staff. Are they also all of international backgrounds?
A – Shelley: They are, and that’s a lens through which I look pretty astutely when I’m trying to hire. Currently, we have faculty members from the Philippines, Jamaica, Korea. Our Spanish music teacher is Cuban-Dominican, our Spanish art teacher is Puerto Rican, our Chinese teachers are all from different regions in China, so again, we feel it’s so important for children. First of all, if you say you’re a multicultural community, that can’t be just within the student body. I think the children need to see and know adults from a wide range of cultures and experiences, and I think it’s so important for children to be able to find adults on the faculty who look like them as well.
Ellen: That’s an interesting point. It does make a difference, doesn’t it?
Shelley: I think, in terms of child development and confidence and really feeling respected and honored, you absolutely need to see grownups who you might look like some day.
Q – Ellen: An excerpt from your Mission Statement on the website states:
[quote]The Academy values curious, active, and growth mindsets. It nurtures all aspects of human development—intellectual, physical, creative, social, and emotional—in order to raise young adults who possess the skills, the confidence, and the compassion to contribute and thrive anywhere in the world.[/quote]
Can you tell us more about this inspiring statement?
A – Shelley: It was the result of a pretty devoted think tank, from our faculty really stopping to think about that this was a moment in time for us to decide, what do we truly value in an international school, and what do we want for these children? We feel very strongly that we want to create a whole experience for children, so that’s why we wanted in our Mission Statement words that acknowledged that we’re not just dealing with the cognitive side of child development. Ultimately, our goal is, we want to raise really great human beings who are scholars and athletes and musicians and leaders and just really, really good friends. And I think you want a mission statement that reminds you of what your task in raising really good human beings should be.
Ellen: Yes, and it’s fascinating for people, perhaps reading about your school for the first time, even from other places, because that’s something that stays with you, I think. As you learn more about a school or institution, then you’re always reminded of that, and it brings up another dimension every time you learn something different.
Shelley: I hope so, and it’s a guidepost for us. You know, this Mission Statement is something I think about whether I’m building curriculum or buying classroom supplies or building a budget for next year. It’s a true touchstone for us.
Q – Ellen: Can you discuss a few of the major highlights of the history and development of the school?
A – Shelley: I think the highlights, for me, have really been, I’ll say, assembling this multicultural faculty that we just talked about, and an extension then, is this very, very diverse, multicultural student body. There’s no question that that’s a highlight in my career. I’ve never seen this, or had it, in any other school, and I see, on a daily basis, how good it is to learn and to work in that kind of environment. So those are certainly highlights in the history of the school, for me.
Q – Ellen: That’s beautiful, and can you please talk a little bit about your future plans for the school and its innovative programs and curricula?
A – Shelley: Well, probably one of the most significant is that we are changing locations. We’re moving a little farther south, and I really look forward to having the ability to create a space that really supports the program even better. That will be an exciting move for us. We anticipate being much closer to the zoo, and I’m beginning to percolate curriculum that could really link children to issues that come from the zoo. I don’t know of a child who doesn’t love a zoo, love animals, but if you just think about that as a vehicle for learning culture, I think it could be really exciting. So, we’ll see where we go with that. Certainly, as our children get older, we’ll need to be expanding curriculum in the target language, so I see us, most likely, doing even more social studies and science in a target language. And I’m already going to bed at night thinking about partnerships with other schools around the world that could foster exchanges, ability for kids to communicate with other children who are using their language—so, no loss of things to think about for the future.
Ellen: Absolutely not. And it’s wonderful to have such a diverse perspective and way of looking at it, because then nothing is limited. You can go in any direction, really.
Shelley: Yes, it’s a pretty rich think tank.
Ellen: Definitely, yes.
Q – Ellen: What are your ideas and thoughts about different important aspects of bilingual proficiency for young people living, studying and working within a continuously expanding global environment, which, of course, we realize every day in some ways, but as adults, perhaps we’re not as conscious of it in some ways as children growing up are? How can bilingual studies and multicultural diversity help students with this?
A – Shelley: I think it circles back to that part of our mission that you quoted—our commitment to raising children who become adults who can contribute and thrive anywhere in the world. Our program aims to create a proficiency—actually more a fluency—that allows them to read, write, think, communicate, create in that target language. So that’s the practical side of it, but I think it also comes back to what we talked about earlier around whether it’s empathy, or inclusivity, that these will be young adults who will be comfortable working with such a wide range of people. I think they’re going to have—I’m certain they’re going to have interpersonal skills and cultural awareness that generations before them just didn’t have. So again, at the risk of sounding too existential about it, I really think these are children who will grow up and solve a lot of problems for us.
Ellen: Which we really need.
Ellen: It’s also really wonderful that you can do that, to start children out so they can develop in that way.
Shelley: It’s a confirmation. At the end of every day, I know that this work matters, and that’s a good feeling at the end of the day.
Q – Ellen: You’ve already spoken about this, Shelley, but I just wonder if children who are in a bilingual and culturally diverse atmosphere develop feelings of self-respect and respect for others simultaneously? I think that sometimes, otherwise, the child develops self first and then reaches out. But it seems as though, perhaps, it would happen faster for a child in a diverse learning atmosphere.
A – Shelley: Well, I think there’s a concurrency that happens. I think, to your point, children do, and I see this often. There’s a pride that comes from learning another language and having that culture awareness that children who aren’t doing it simply don’t have, the opportunity to feel pride in that particular area in school life. But I think it’s more about, it’s still unusual in the world, I think, for people to run into truly bilingual children, and our kids have fun with that. Whether they’re on a subway or in a restaurant, they love surprising people with their ability to use that other language. I think for the children for whom Mandarin or Spanish has been a family language, and they might, in earlier contexts or in earlier generations have even been a little embarrassed by or apologetic for the fact that their parents’ first language isn’t English, that’s diminished here. And we hear parents say that all the time—that suddenly, a language that they wanted to keep quiet, now they’re proud to use. And you see those children just stand a little taller and walk a little prouder.
Ellen: Then, the children see the parents in a different light.
Shelley: They do, or grandparents—earlier generations. So it gives me great joy to feel that we’re participating in instilling that kind of pride for their native culture, or their first culture.
Q – Ellen: The types of social events and celebrations held at the school—do they incorporate all different types of cultures that have some connection with children here?
A – Shelley: Yes, they do, and we try very hard to honor, in addition to Spanish and Chinese culture, we try very hard to recognize and honor our children’s cultures as well, so that comes in such forms as, right now, as I told you, we have a parent talking upstairs about Christmas on his family’s farm in Ecuador. Next week, an Israeli family is coming in to talk about how their family celebrates Hanukkah. We try really hard, though, not to have this just be centered on holidays. Recently, we had Australian children here whose grandparents were visiting, and they came in to talk about Australia and being exactly on the other side of the planet. If you divided the globe and you connected New York and Sydney, it really is almost exactly halfway around the world—and to talk about time difference and time zones, and so we just try to grab every opportunity that we can find to bring families or their extended families in to talk about just their personal experience.
Again, as I said earlier, not to suggest that this is how everybody in Australia lives—goodness, that’s not possible—how everybody in Saudi Arabia lives, but this is how our family does certain things, or celebrates particular holidays. And we have, at the end of the year, as kind of a culminating celebration, we have what we call International Day, and children are invited to—nobody has to—but if there’s any kind of dress that speaks to some part of your family’s heritage, you’re invited to wear it. We do a parade around the block, and the neighbors have really grown to be excited about our little parade. We spend the morning with the children in workshops hosted by family members who provide some cultural insight, and then the morning culminates with an International Feast where parents bring a dish that, again, tells some part of their family story. So we may eat very exotic food, and then I love that we have a parent from Minnesota who brought Jello and said, “This is what you bring to a church supper in Minnesota.” So people have some fun with interpreting international dishes, too.
Q – Ellen: In closing, Shelley, I wonder—can students apply to the school from anywhere in the world?
A – Shelley: Yes, absolutely. As an international school, of course, we welcome applications from anywhere in the world. We don’t, at this point, sponsor I-20s, so a student has to come with a parent with whom they would be living. We’re not a boarding program, and we don’t arrange home stays, which both speak to the I-20. But yes, if a family is anticipating a relocation or a move to New York, we welcome those applications and I think we currently have families from every Borough other than Staten Island. And we forgive them for not wanting to get on a ferry to come here, but certainly welcome applications of all kinds.
Ellen: That’s great because people are always coming to New York for work, and sometimes it’s for a year and sometimes more, but it’s wonderful to know that they can participate and have their children study at an international school.
Shelley: Yes, I do a number of interviews with families through Skype or Facetime, so again, back to technology. It really shrinks the world, even in admissions.
Ellen: I’m sure. – Once again, Shelley, thank you so much for being so generous in sharing your time to enlighten us about the innovative and very unique programs and the cultural diversity here at the International Academy of New York.
Shelley: You’re welcome, my pleasure.
It’s been a great pleasure speaking with Shelley Borror Jackson, Head of the innovative and inspiring International Academy of New York, creating new paths in current global bilingual and multicultural childhood education, designed to benefit young students now and throughout their lives.