In a nation where immigration is a constant flashpoint, where there is an English Only movement which demands that English be declared the “official language” of the United States, here in Forest Park there are children as young as six weeks eagerly learning a second language, appreciating multiple cultures.
At the Montessori Spanish school, Luisa Long and her staff of all native Spanish speakers, immerse their 34 young students—six weeks to six years old–in the Spanish language all day.
Meanwhile at the Montessori Language Academy Yoko Avramov immerses her 27 students, ages three to six, in Japanese in the morning and teaches in English in the afternoon.
“Having two languages,” says Long, “has nothing to do with dividing. Knowing two languages doesn’t change who you are. What it does is give you more options. The better you know another culture, the more you appreciate your own.”
Avramov agrees with her colleague. “Parents who bring their children here,” she said, “don’t think like the people in the English only movement. They want their children to grow up as world citizens. I have friends everywhere in the world so what’s the point to limit the language. It doesn’t make sense.”
In fact Yoko Sensei, as her students call her, argues that being immersed in another culture can make her young students better citizens of this country. “A lot of parents who bring their children here,” she said, “are aware of Japanese culture and the value it places on respect — respect for classroom material, respect for your friends and teachers and the younger students.”
She pointed out that the Montessori method of teaching, which both she and Long use, includes respect by the teacher for each student as an individual. “Montessori,” she said, “is a way of teaching that is individualized. We develop our curriculum differently for each individual child. The design of the material is for self-teaching. When you learn on your own you retain it better and it’s more satisfying than if a teacher tries to explain it.”
Both women live out in their lives their belief that unity can be achieved within diversity. Yoko’s last name is Avramov — definitely not Japanese. Her husband is from Bulgaria and her son speaks English, Japanese and a little Bulgarian.
Long was born in Mexico City and was married for a time to a man from Morocco. “I was raised as a traditional Catholic,” she said, “and he as a traditional Muslim. We can see differences as something positive for our children.”
She, like her colleague, sees being bi-lingual and comfortable in more than one culture as a characteristic which enhances unity precisely because of diversity. “Those who say English only,” she said, “have never traveled and have narrow minds. When there is diversity in a team, even in a political organization, people have more options available to them. A closed mind cannot accept and learn.”
Long who is 48 came to the Chicago area in 1997 from Mexico where she had already been teaching according to the Montessori method. She worked in Montessori schools in Oak Park and opened a school in her own home in 2002. Currently she has a school in Oak Park on Garfield as well as the location on Lathrop.
Avramov, 61, was born in Japan and came here with her husband in 1992. She received the Golden Apple award in 2000 and the Kohl McCormick Early Childhood Teaching Award in 2001. She became a certified Montessori teacher in 1997.
Both women said parents bring their children to their language immersion schools for a variety of reasons. Avramov said about a third of her students have one or both parents who are Japanese and want their children who are growing up in American culture to retain some of their Asian cultural roots.
Long said many of her parents see being bi-lingual as having economic advantages. Based on census data from 10 years ago, there are an estimated 41 million Spanish speakers living in the U.S. That’s a huge market.
Avramov said many parents don’t see their children using Japanese much in their professional lives but understand how learning another language at an early age is good for the brain. “Another reason parents bring their children here,” she said, “is because Japanese is different from English. It’s challenging for their brains. Children learn listening skills. You have to pay attention to understand it.”
Yoko Avramov’s language academy is located at 314 Circle. Phone number 708-771-5030. Email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Luisa Long’s Spanish Montessori school has two locations: 937 Garfield St., Oak Park 708-358-6000, email@example.com and 16 Lathrop Ave., Forest Park 708-435-4309 opmshome@gmail. com.