Global Classroom Awards

The Milwaukee School of Languages
8400 W. Burleigh Street
Milwaukee, WI 53222
Principal: Dr. Grace Thomsen
School Contacts: Cindy Oppe, Learning Coordinator
Diane Hodel, Guidance Counselor
Essay Author: Alexander P. Durtka, Jr., International Institute of Wisconsin

The Growing of World Citizens

Students begin a year of learning adventure and exploration with a culturally and racially diverse student body who are immersed in their second or third world language; the immersion and partial immersion programs offer a choice of five languages that develop advanced levels of world language proficiency. MSL, a Title I school, includes students with special needs. Office and classroom doors are open to all students for counseling and tutoring. The small school environment supports participation in one or more extra curricular activity from sports to chess from debate to school newspaper and yearbook. Yusuke from Japan inquired about a music club so that he could learn about American music with his new schoolmates and within hours the club began to take shape. The music department and other students were as delighted as Yusuke; through one international student the lives of others are richer.

Special events are routine for international students. They meet with an outside educational consultant discussing expectations, ground rules and support to students and staff throughout the year. Exchange students invite their host families and new school friends to a school-sponsored breakfast at the beginning of October to build relationships between school friends, teachers, and host parents early in the school year. Through a community service partnership, exchange students and their classmates annually volunteer to teach language and culture to fourth through eighth grade students during the Holiday Folk Fair International Education Day and organize their own Festival of Nations in spring for their school community. Then during a June ceremony, the MSL family will applaud these students who have accepted the year-long challenge that will shape their entire lives.

Being a leader in language immersion education in the United States brings frequent visitors from local, state, national and international education groups to this unique school setting. MSL offers all students the opportunity to experience learning from an international perspective while engaging in a rigorous academically challenging curriculum, including advanced placement classes in four languages. Exchange students serve as resource in high school and middle school classes, sharing not only their language and culture but also their perspective with their peers.

In addition to year exchange students, MSL has other relationships, such as, a six-week Peruvian exchange, a two-week German exchange; teachers and interns from aboard become members of the MSL staff annually; the month-long Young Japanese Teachers Professional Development program members assist with MSL classes.

Over the past 12 years, MSL has opened its classroom doors to more than 80 full-year international students from more than eighteen different countries sponsored by eleven different programs. Alumni frequently return to share their professional careers, advocate for the exchange experience and encourage language and cultural studies. Welcomed alums include teachers in immersion programs, a consul in the U.S. EmbassyRiyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a bilingual counselor in Marquette University, a secretary in a local international firm.

Hosting another provides first hand experiences with another culture, but immersing oneself in another culture is getting to know another culture and to know one's own. More than 50 students annually enter into other cultures through travel to Japan, Peru, France, and Germany during breaks and semester or year abroad. One student shared his summer scholarship experience in Okinawa stimulating his classmates to aggressively seek out similar experiences. During a site visit of the Midwest US-Japan Conference members, a Kikkoman employee and the Wisconsin's First Lady, students seized the opportunity to inquire about scholarships to study abroad. The school climate whets the students' appetites to immerse themselves in both the language and the culture.

Living in another culture provides an opportunity to gain a global perspective. Returning from an exchange experience, one student expressed great concerned about the threat of war to his host country - "They can't go to war there, my host brother lives there." Milwaukee's global family continues to grow as it shares it schools and homes with those from the world neighborhood developing tolerance and respect for people who may have the same needs and wants but whose way of life or of solving problems may be different. What we do not understand we fear; what we fear we destroy; understanding leads to peace; that peace is in our hands.

They have studied in our classrooms, competed on the playing fields, danced and laughed and cried and sung together. As you stand on the soccer sideline or the chess competition with parents, students, and administrators you can hear your name called out and the chant We are the Mighty Hawks Soaring to Success. Once a Hawk, always a Hawk.

They come as strangers; they leave as world citizens, as friends, as family.