Global Ambassadors Language Academy (GALA)

Global Ambassadors Language Academy (GALA)

An independent public charter school serving students in grades K–8 in Cleveland, Ohio
www.GALACleveland.org
www.facebook.com/GlobalAmbassadorsLanguageAcademy

Program Description

The Global Ambassadors Language Academy (GALA) is a Mandarin and Spanish immersion school on the west-side of Cleveland, Ohio. GALA is the first language immersion school in Northeast Ohio and the only Mandarin immersion school in the state of Ohio.  

GALA was founded by Meran Rogers, a parent, educator, and entrepreneur. Rogers’ passion to open GALA was fueled by her experience growing up in a multilingual immigrant household, attending and working in Cleveland public schools, and working as an English immersion teacher in Taiwan. In 2012, GALA established a Board of Directors and 501c3 status. In December 2015, GALA submitted a charter application (Academic, Operation, and Financial Plan) to the Ohio Council for Community Schools and received sponsorship in May 2016.  

On August 3, 2016, after nearly 5 years of planning, GALA opened its doors to 60 students in grades K–1. GALA has more than tripled its enrollment, with 200 students in grades K–3 for the 2018–2019 school year, and will continue to add a grade each year, until it reaches K–8 in 2023 (projected to be more than 500 K–8 students). 

GALA is an independent, tuition-free, public charter school, which is open to all Ohio residents. No prior language skills are required to enroll. GALA’s innovative model provides students the opportunity to grow up with a bilingual education that will serve them throughout their lives.  

Although GALA is located on the west side of Cleveland, in the Jefferson/West Park neighborhood, the school also draws students from across Northeast Ohio: 61% of the students reside in Cleveland, and 39% reside in 26 surrounding suburbs. Staff are proud of the diverse student population: 49% White, 32% Black, 4.8% Asian, 0.5% Native American, and 13.7% Multi-racial. GALA is located in a former Catholic school building, after the school closed in 2012 after 88 years of operation. GALA selected the building after a year-long search and selection process that determined the site to be the best location in Cleveland, based on safety, accessibility, cost, room to grow, and need for a school in the area. 

As a Mandarin and Spanish immersion school, students must choose which language program to enroll in. Families choose a program for a variety of reasons, including their own heritage, their interest in the culture, future employment opportunities, or adding a third language (i.e. Spanish-speaking students enrolled in the Mandarin immersion program). The majority of GALA students are native speakers of English and do not speak another language before they enroll.

As a public school, GALA’s curriculum is aligned with Ohio’s Common Core State Standards. Students in grades K–2 receive daily instruction in Mandarin or Spanish for 70% of the school day (4.5 hours) across all core academic subjects, including Math, Social Studies, Science, and Language Arts. They receive 30% of daily instruction in English (2 hours) for English Language Arts, Physical Education, and Art. In grades 3–5, instruction is provided in Mandarin or Spanish for 60% of the day and 40% in English. In grades 6–8, 50% of instruction is in Mandarin or Spanish and 50% in English. 

GALA’s Dual Language Immersion Model

Grade

Instruction Time in Mandarin or Spanish

Instruction Time in English

K–2

70%

30%

3–5

60%

40%

6–8

50%

50%

Through GALA’s language immersion model, students are expected to become proficient in reading, writing, listening, and speaking in English and the target language by the end of third grade, while in later grades, they achieve at high levels of academic success and develop cross-cultural skills, which result in their being globally competitive for the 21st century.  

Special Activities and Recognition

GALA celebrates diversity and the many cultures that the community and students represent. Throughout the school year, teachers and students celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, Black History Month, Asian Heritage Month, the Day of the Dead, and Chinese New Year. The school also hosts an annual international holiday festival, which includes a visit from Santa Claus and student singing performances in Mandarin and Spanish.  

Students participate in 2 to 3 field trips during the school year, which have included visits to the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, Cleveland Botanical Gardens, Rocky River Reservation Nature Center, Great Lakes Science Center, and the Cleveland Natural History Museum. Students have also taken a trip to The Quicken Loans Arena to watch a Cleveland Cavaliers basketball game.  

In 2017 and 2018, GALA students in the Mandarin immersion program competed in the Ohio Chinese Speech and Essay contest and received first, second, and third place awards and a School of Excellence Award. In 2018, GALA received a $10,000 Community Impact Award from The Dominion Foundation for launching Ohio’s first Mandarin and Spanish immersion school. The award recognizes organizations that have made a major contribution toward the economic and social revitalization of communities. 

Beyond the regular school day, GALA offers before- and after-school care. This gives parents the flexibility they need and provides students opportunities to participate in various activities including art, reading, homework help, and playing games. After school, GALA contracts with outside vendors to provide clubs for enrichment. Clubs typically take place once per week for 10 to 12 weeks. Clubs offered include Art, Dance, Kung Fu, Music, STEM, Puppet Club, and Yoga. Clubs that will be offered in the future include Chess, Math, and Intramural Sports.

GALA hosts international teachers from Spain through the Ohio Department of Education’s Spain Visiting Teacher Program and teaching assistant interns from Taiwan through the Amity Institute. GALA is fortunate to have these visiting international teachers, who bring so much from their home countries, including food, traditions, music, and games.  

Challenges and Next Steps

One persistent challenge for GALA is funding. As an independent non-profit charter school, GALA receives less public funds from the Ohio Department of Education than do traditional public schools. Meanwhile, GALA’s instructional model is more expensive than a general education school, as it requires curriculum sets in three languages (English, Mandarin, and Spanish), and an additional full-time English Language Arts teacher is required for every three main classes. Another persistent challenge for GALA is teacher recruitment. It is difficult to find the teachers that have the required Ohio teaching license (i.e. K–3 Early Childhood Education), speak Mandarin or Spanish, and have experience working with children. For the 2018–2019 school year, GALA has nine main classroom teachers, three English Language Arts teachers, one intervention specialist, an Art teacher, and a Physical Education teacher.

Next steps for GALA are to continue to grow. The school is on track to add a grade level each year, until classes reach grades K–8 in 2023. School staff also hope to maintain the great sense of community and close relationships among the families and staff, an environment that was created by virtue of starting out as such a small school when it opened and continued through the shared passion, commitment, and dedication among everyone in Cleveland who wants language immersion opportunity for their children. 

Program Contacts

Meran Rogers
Founder & Executive Director
MRogers@GALACleveland.org

Michael Salwiesz
Principal
MSalwiesz@GALACleveland.org

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