Odyssey Charter School

The curriculum at Odyssey Charter School is designed to provide rigorous, standards-based learning opportunities for all students. Odyssey Charter School fosters lifelong enthusiasm for learning and global, critical thinking through participation in a focused foreign language immersion program.

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The Greek Language Instructional Program

The Dual Language Immersion Program

The school year 2017-2018 Odyssey Charter School (OCS) launched an innovative dual language immersion program in English and Greek. The implementation began in the kindergarten and will expand one grade every year. This is a program that builds on OCS’ previous experience with the teaching of Greek as part of the FLES (Foreign Languages in Elementary School) program. Immersion programs aim at the development of bilingualism within the school setting by immersing students from a very young age in a bilingual learning context.

It has been claimed that immersion programs are the most effective way of learning a foreign language within a school setting. Immersion education learners have been found to be able to add a second language to their repertory of skills at no cost to the development of their first language (Cummins, 2000). As a result, these learners manage to attain a relatively high level of both fluency and literacy in their two languages.

Taking into consideration the positive research results of previous immersion programs, the Odyssey Charter School is implementing the partial immersion type of education where 50% of instruction will be provided in Greek. The core academic content is split by subject area between two teachers: The Greek teacher teaches math, science and Greek language arts, whereas the English teacher teaches social studies and English language arts. This means that OCS learners will have the opportunity to acquire Greek through the study of academic disciplines but this content-centered language learning is an effective way for them to develop both their interactive and their academic skills in Greek as a foreign language (Cummins 1979).

The World-Readiness Standards for Learning Languages (2016), created by the national organization ACTFL (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages), and the Common Core State Standards were the cornerstones of the first integrated American and Greek language curriculum that we designed and is currently being implemented for the first time at the Odyssey Charter School. This means that the immersion students at the OCS will follow the same standards-based curriculum in math, science and language arts that non-immersion students follow: they will be taught the core concepts that are part of the curriculum of those subjects in Greek and at the same time they will be taught Greek through content.

On top of the above gains brought about by bilingual education, immersion programs help learners to develop positive cross-cultural attitudes in an increasingly multilingual world. They expose students to customs, ideas and perspectives of a different culture and create a deeper understanding of and appreciation for humanity and culture, which enriches one’s life and personal experiences in the world (Albers 2010).

Based on the curriculum designed and its implementation the following years, OCS students are expected to acquire an Intermediate level of proficiency at the end of grade 5 and an advanced level of proficiency at the end of grade 9. This means that in 9 years from now those learners will be able to speak Greek fluently and accurately; they will be able to read and appreciate texts written in Greek and they will develop a deep understanding of the Greek culture and way of thinking.

Restructuring the FLES program at OCS

?he FLES (Foreign Languages in the Elementary Schools) program was launched at OCS in 2008. Its goal was to introduce the Greek language to elementary students with 90 minutes of Greek language instruction time during the school week beginning in Kindergarten (45 minutes for Greek language and 45 minutes for Math instruction). The purpose of the FLES Greek Program was to emphasize learning content students already learn but in a different language. This allows them to simultaneously develop basic communication skills in the target language while also reinforcing the core curriculum.

Together with the Dual Language Immersion Program, the OCS is restructuring its FLES program this year aiming to align it more effectively with the Common Core Standards for K-5. The homeroom teacher and the FLES teacher work together in order to design bilingual units on concepts of the core curriculum. Similar types of cooperation between them are expected to allow learners to draw comparisons between the two countries and cultures, whenever this is possible.

Beyond the school setting

OCS aims to promote the Greek language and culture in the US, not only through formal but also through non-formal education. To this aim, the school is collaborating with universities in Greece, such as the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, and it has signed Memorandum of Understanding with the University of Patras but also with Harvard University and the University of Delaware. The school has also signed MoU with a state school (K-12) in Ancient Olympia, Greece and is designing exchange programs and educational programs of collaboration with private and state schools in Athens (e.g., American Community School), in Thessaloniki (Pinewood), and in Argolida (an elementary and a high school).

The school aspires to reinforce the links between Greece and the U.S. by encouraging and enabling members of its staff and students to participate in summer programs and courses, such as the one organized by the Centre for Hellenic Studies (Harvard University) in Nafplio, or the summer program of the School of Modern Greek, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and the International Summer School on Ancient Drama (Epidaurus Lyceum, Peloponnisos). Such programs of non-formal education will allow teachers and students to broaden their horizons, improve their language, communication and collaboration skills and cultivate their knowledge about the Greek history, culture and civilization.

As a result of these collaborations, for the first time this year, one of our High School students is going to gain a scholarship to participate in the High School Summer Program organized by the Center for Hellenic Studies, Harvard University, Nafplio, Greece.

The ultimate aim and vision of the school is to build bridges of intercultural and bilingual communication and to forge links of meaningful collaboration and friendship between educational stakeholders in the US and in Greece.