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IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Expanding Facilities & Growing Community at Dalian Huamei Bilingual School
By Miles McFall 22-Apr-20
Ready, Set… Let’s build a bilingual school! Where do we start? When the decision to expand the Dalian American International School (DAIS) program offerings to include a bilingual school for Chinese nationals was made in 2017, we knew there would be much to do. To form the Dalian Huamei Bilingual School (DHBS), board members, administration, and teachers traveled around Asia visiting schools, asking questions, and reviewing research to see what the landscape was and to find the best path forward. Thankfully, the collaborative and supportive environment of ISS schools meant that our colleagues in other institutions were honest and forthcoming. Then came the hard part: putting together all we had seen into a cohesive program to meet the needs of our community. And so the conversations started. What do we value? What do we mean when we say we’re a “bilingual” school? How do the influences of culture on individuals and systems inform our planning? What will the similarities and differences be between our international and bilingual school? Anyone who has participated in the work of starting a new school knows the myriad questions that must be considered and plans formulated and changed as issues arise. Most salient among our concerns was the community’s desire to keep the defining elements of DAIS throughout the expansion. At a time when “community” is a major buzzword, everyone was almost embarrassed to use it, but stakeholder feedback showed it was true that at DAIS the idea of community has pervaded the campus from its humble roots over a decade ago. Keeping that close-knit neighborhood feel as our campus expanded by hundreds of students and families was foremost in our minds. In identifying the needs of our community, we opened amazing new student housing, athletic facilities, performance space, and meeting rooms, as well as the largest academic building on our campus. Our new, purpose-built academic building became home to the Dalian Huamei Bilingual School, which opened its doors to Chinese national and international students in Grades 1–6. These new spaces allowed for expansion without impinging on the classroom, athletic, or living spaces of our existing students and families. A new chapter Despite the previous years of designing, planning, and constructing the new building, it really wasn’t brought to life until faculty and staff worked for weeks to create a warm, welcoming, multilingual environment for new students. As nervous and excited students and parents streamed in to begin building a new community, we committed to fostering the same personal relationships that have made DAIS so successful over the years. And what better way to bring a community together than with a library! Designed to welcome DHBS parents, faculty, and students to a school devoted to social, academic, and personal growth, the library has expanded the DAIS library circulation to over 20,000 books distributed between the three libraries on campus. With a school founded on the development of bilingualism, biliteracy, and socio-cultural competence, having a library stocked with monolingual books in English and Mandarin as well as dual languages supports the bilingual people we strive to help our students become. In the months since opening day, it was been gratifying to watch personal connections form as “new students” became classmates and friends. As planned, our spacious new cafeteria designed to seat over 450 people serves as a common meeting place for DAIS and DHBS elementary and middle school students. What we didn’t expect was that on any given day, it’s not uncommon to see faculty and staff with students from each division sharing meals and laughs. The expanded side-by-side art classrooms have been busy producing creative, original student work to help decorate the space. It’s gratifying to see our multicultural school identity coming through with bold self-portrait paintings contrasting elegant Chinese calligraphy and watercolors. The experience continues as both the Chinese and English music classes prepare for both a winter concert and spring festival celebration. It’s not every day that one hears both Jingle Bells and the gujung from different directions in the same hall. These distinct cultural offering are evidence that as our community continues to diversify, the benefits are shared by everyone. The work continues As DHBS continues expanding, there is yet much to accomplish. While previous planning provided us a foundation, there are many exciting innovations ahead. Echoing discussions happening at a global scale, our faculty, staff, and students are coming together over conversations about navigating cultural differences in understanding, learning, and language. Intentionally building bridges between languages to support biliteracy, creating multilingual learning spaces using translanguaging, and helping guide students in reflective practices around language choices has been rewarding. We look forward to the day when our students carry our sense and appreciation of community out to include even more potential neighbors.
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