Joanna Duong came to Canada only a year and a half ago. But she says she feels right at home as soon as she enters Glendale Secondary School in East Hamilton.
Duong, 18, is a twelfth grade student. “One thing I really remember from my first day at Glendale School,” he said. That’s the sign hanging in front of our ESL [English as a Second Language] school classroom.”
Duong recalled the signboard reading “Welcome” in Russian and Vietnamese. Duong speaks both languages, as he was born to Russian and Vietnamese parents.
He said, “For a second, I felt as if I was in my own city. Immediately, the feeling of sadness for the country and the language barrier were completely removed.”
According to the school administration, Duong is now the school’s “language friendly” ambassador from among the students. Students in this school speak more than 40 languages.
He is also part of an 18-member team of teachers, administrators and students supporting the development of multilingualism in the school. Their efforts helped Glendale earn the title of North America’s first “language-friendly” secondary school.
The Language Friendly Schools Network has 23 member schools in countries around the world including the Netherlands, Spain and China. The first North American school to join the network was Silver Greek Public School in Mississauga, Ontario.
A “Language Friendly” flag was flown at Glendale School on Tuesday morning to mark the occasion of joining the network.
Marjorie Hewitt, head of the school’s ESL department, told CBC Hamilton they chose February 21 as the day to celebrate the achievement, as it is also International Mother Language Day.
Last Friday, he said, “This day felt appropriate for hoisting the language-friendly flag.”
“Being part of this network is a voluntary choice of inclusion and respect for multilingual students and their languages,” she said.
‘This is how communities are built’: Principal
The school’s principal, David Schroeder, said the emphasis on language “builds connections and understanding” that excites him.
He said, “As a principal, I always want to build social relationships, and get all the students together, each other a little bit more.
It is through understanding that we build community.”
Hewitt said welcoming in many languages is already visible in school classrooms and curricula.
She said, “Some teachers have taken on dual language projects, if they have to write a poem… it’s likely they’re reading the poem in English, but they’re also reading it in their first language and sharing it in the classroom with students in their first language.
“At a very basic level,” Hewitt said, that means making different languages visible in schools and making schools more linguistically accessible to parents.
According to Schroeder, about one-third of Glendale school students speak a second language at home. “Glendale has always been a very diverse community,” he said. We deliberately take the step of joining this network to celebrate the issue in a more formal way.”
“When you walk into the halls of Glendale, you can see and hear diversity. It’s really a wonderful feeling that students are proudly speaking their mother tongue in school.”