Inter-American Magnet School
Inter-American Magnet School (IAMS) is one of the oldest and most comprehensive dual language (also known as two way immersion) schools in the Midwestern United States. Children learn to speak, read and write fluently in Spanish and English. One of few public schools to be founded by parents, the school serves over 650 ethnically and economically diverse preschool through 8th grade students from all over Chicago. The school is affiliated with the International Spanish Academy of the Spanish Ministry of Education and Sciences and is located at 851 West Waveland Ave. Chicago, Illinois.
Inter-American was started by two north side mothers of young children who dreamed of a multilingual, multicultural school where children from varied backgrounds would be taught in English and Spanish in an atmosphere of cultural pride. Adela Coronado-Greeley and Janet Nolan took their idea to the community in a long series of meetings, and proceeded to approach the Board of Education. The Board agreed to support a bilingual preschool where Spanish-speaking children could prepare for kindergarten. The preschool opened in September 1975 in two rooms in the old Bartelme School in Rogers Park where Janet and Addy Tellez were the only teachers. A single bus provided transportation for the students.
At the end of the year, the Board considered dropping the program, but the Parent Advisory Council (PAC), headed by Adela Coronado-Greeley, persuaded the Board members to expand the program instead, and a kindergarten was added for 1976. The next year, the Board extended the program to first grade and, subsequently, a grade was added each year. In 1978, IAMS moved into LeMoyne School, east of Wrigley Field. Intense lobbying by IAMS parents paid off in 1983, when the school won its own site, in a temporary building in Lakeview. The new location was the home of Robert Morris Elementary School, which had been a Lakeview neighborhood school since the late nineteenth century. While some Morris teachers and students left the school, most remained when IAMS moved in. IAMS graduated its first class of eighth graders in 1985. Also in 1985, Eva Helwing was named the first official school principal and served in that role until she retired in 2005.
In 2000, after much community input, an architecture competition was held and IAMS almost won a brand new building in the Avondale neighborhood. However, promised federal funding never materialized. Instead, six years later, the school moved back to the LeMoyne building, which underwent a $7 million renovation by the Board of Education. The school now provides dual-language, multicultural, literature-based education for over 650 students. The tradition of parental activism continues. Parents are deeply involved in every aspect of school life, from curriculum to transportation, to volunteering in the classrooms.
IAMS promotes academic excellence through dual language and multicultural education. Students attain proficiency levels in Spanish and English that enable them to participate in communicative, academic and workplace contexts. Spanish-dominant, English-dominant and bilingual speakers develop fluency and literacy skills in both languages. Students affirm the values of their own cultures while acquiring understanding, appreciation and acceptance of other cultures, and demonstrate social consciousness in our pluralistic world. A model two-way dual language curriculum is implemented which integrates into all subject areas the history, contributions and cultures of the peoples of the Americas, and includes studies utilizing the scientific advances of our society. In order for our students to achieve their potential and to make positive associations with bilingualism, a caring, cooperative, and accepting school climate is fostered to promote the social, affective and cognitive development of the whole child, in which the parents are active partners in the formal schooling of their children.
Familias En La Escuela (FELE) is the evolution of the PAC. FELE is completely free; no dues are required. One of the annual highlights organized by FELE is the Fiesta Cultural, a family-friendly celebration of Latino music, dance, food, arts and culture. FELE is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization; donations to FELE are accepted through Guidestar. Parents, community and staff can connect with each on the IAMScommunity yahoo group (membership is required to view calendar and messages).
The school's Local School Council (LSC) was inspired by and modeled after the level of collaboration between parents, teachers and administration at Inter-American School before the days of school reform in the 1980s. The more parents, staff and community members that participate in the running of the school, the stronger the collective voice to advocate for the best education for children. Meetings are generally every first Wednesday at 6:00 pm in the school cafeteria. Everyone is welcome.
Then and now
Long considered a national model of successful dual-language instruction, Inter-American School, its teachers and administrators have been honored and profiled throughout the years. While today there is more awareness of the economic and cognitive benefits of bilingualism and biliteracy, sustainable dual-language programs are not the norm.
Recent controversial changes in leadership and location had the potential to profoundly affect the nature of the school. Parents, staff and community are working very hard to ensure the future sustainability of the program in its present location.
The 5th grade students are integrating "Sustainable Life" content in the curriculum. The children are learning about ecology, permaculture, recycling, nutrition and more. As part of this, the children will build an Aztec Chinampas rain gain. Many professionals and organizations are contributing resources and expertise, including the Partners of the Americas, Organic School Project, Healthy Schools Campaign, and Midwest Permaculture. This project is being documented by film students from Columbia College.
Members of the IAMS team continue to lobby for the resources and capacity to support and rebuild one of Chicago Public School's finest and most innovative programs. Community groups and businesses such as the Chicago Cubs are playing a paramount role in supporting their new neighbor.
Benefits of bilingualism
Greater awareness and more resources about the benefits of bilingualism are becoming more prevalent.
- Enhances problem solving and creativity
- Open-minded to other cultures
- Better interpersonal and social skills
- Increased self-esteem
- Helps native Spanish-speaking children communicate with all members of close and extended family and maintain good family relationships.
- Bilingual professionals earn more and have greater flexibility to choose a place to live and work
- Easier to learn a third and fourth language
Related books & articles
- Berman, P., Minicucci, C. McLaughlin, B., Nelson, B., Woodworth, K. (1995). School Reform and Student Diversity: Case Studies of Exemplary Practices for LEP Students. Chapter 5. The Institute for Policy Analysis and Research in collaboration with the National Center for Research on Cultural Diversity and Second Language Learning.
- Illinois State Board of Education (2004). Little Prints. Bilingual
- Kirk Senesac, Barbara V. (2002: Vol.26 No.1). Two-Way Bilingual Immersion: A Portrait of Quality Schooling. Bilingual Research Journal
- Lindholm-Leary, K. (2001). Dual Language Education. Clevedon, England: Multilingual Matters.
- Potowski, K. (2007). Language and Identity in a Dual Immersion School. Clevedon, England Multilingual Matters.
- Zucker, C. (1995). The Role of ESL in a Dual Language Program. Bilingual Research Journal
- ABC7Chicago, Educator uses songs, dual languages to teach literacy
- CPS Right Now 2007 Cubs Care-a-van at Inter-American School
- La Raza, April 2007 "Educación sin fronteras"
- Hallett, Mark 2008 Fiesta Cultural Documentary
- Hallett, Mark Inter-American Goes "Green"
- Vine Line Blog (Los Cubs) Spotlight on Reading
- Chicago Tribune, January 2012 Longtime magnet school principal was a pioneer in dual language education