Learning First Alliance

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Seattle Students Go Global -- And Soar

Karen Kodama, John Stanford International School, Washington

Story posted December, 2007. Results updated November 25, 2013

• In 2012, proficiency rates for students at John Stanford International were significantly higher than the state averages across all grades and subjects.

• In 2013, student proficiency rates in reading were above 90% in all grades.


"Globalization" is a word everyone uses, but few know how to put into practice. Eight years ago, however, Seattle parents and businesses were asked, in separate surveys, what they thought would make for a successful "international" school - one that immerses students in world languages and cultures as they acquire the skills needed to thrive worldwide.

The answers were put into practice at the K-5 John Stanford International School (JSIS), named for a Seattle superintendent who, before his death from leukemia, envisioned creating high-achieving global-savvy schools. Founded in 2000, JSIS is just that, earning high test scores and prestigious awards, and serving as a model for the district. So how does it do all these things?

First, immersion. The 400 students - 24 percent Latino, 22 percent Asian, and 49 percent white - spend half the day learning in English, the other half in Spanish and Japanese. Kindergarteners learn math, science, culture and literacy in Spanish or Japanese from native speakers. They learn reading, writing and social studies in English. In subsequent grades, world language and English teachers begin to share the curriculum, ensuring that students learn at least part of every subject in a world language and part in English. Stanfordsingers2.jpg

A global perspective, meanwhile, is ubiquitous. Harvest songs, South American folktales, and West African painting are taught in music, literacy, and art classes. International holidays are celebrated. And relationships with sister schools - in Tanzania, Mexico, and Japan - culminate in students' video-conferencing presentations and an annual pilgrimage to Puerto Vallarta, where JSIS students and their parents immerse themselves in the daily life of a Mexican school.

JSIS fosters intense parent and community involvement. From the start, Seattle-based businesses, including Starbucks, have contributed everything from textbooks to computers. During the school's International Business Breakfasts, as students put on talent shows, they open their checkbooks for various projects. And the University of Washington was instrumental in helping to develop JSIS's immersion curriculum.

One reason the school earned two high-profile honors - the Goldman Sachs Foundation Prize for Excellence in International Education; and the Best of the Best Intel and Scholastic Schools of Distinction Award - is its support for excellent instruction. All teachers engage in ample professional development, share cutting-edge technological tools, and "loop" - or spend two consecutive years - with each class of students. JSIS also delivers what district officials crave: math and reading test scores that exceed state averages.

Such results have not only attracted visitors from around the world; they've inspired Seattle to expand its global reach. Karen Kodama, JSIS's founding principal, is now the district's International Education Administrator, charged with creating 10 new international schools, from kindergarten on up, over the next half-dozen years.

Further details about this story can be found in our sources:
Edutopia Magazine, "World Party: Cultivating a Student's Global Consciousness", Published on March 2006.

The Goldman Sachs Foundation, "Prizes for Excellence in International Education", 2003 Edition

Intel Corporation, "Intel Innovation in Education:The John Stanford International School and the Academy of Allied Health and Science Set Their Sights on Excellence", Published in 2005

Update, November 2013

John Stanford International Elementary is taking its global focus beyond a global curricula. To do so, the school has identified three strategies that are supporting a community of learners who are committed to change: Teacher-leaders, professional learning communities and networking across the district. The school is increasingly focused on helping students become global citizens through projects and hands on activities, all while maintaining strong academic performance. Learn more in the recent Edutopia posting.

For additional information, please contact:
Karen Kodama
Former and Founding Principal, John Stanford International School; currently Seattle Public Schools District International Education Administrator

Photos Courtesy of Karen Kodama and Seattle Public Schools