International Charter School of Atlanta (ICSAtlanta) is a multilingual, multicultural, World IB School that serves students in Kindergarten through the eighth grades. The dual-language immersion public charter school is authorized by the State Charter Schools Commission of Georgia and opened in the fall of 2015. ICSAtlanta elementary students can take dual-language immersion tracks in Mandarin, Spanish, French or German. The school’s middle-grade students study a second language, and they have the option of learning a third language when proficiency has been attained in the second language.
International Charter School of Atlanta was also recently approved to provide the “IB Primary Years Programme (IB PYP)” for students in Kindergarten through the fifth grade. ICS Atlanta started the 2019-2020 school year as the first International Baccalaureate (IB) World School for the Primary Years Programme (PYP) located in North Fulton County. The IB PYP seeks to develop the whole child while placing a powerful emphasis on inquiry. The “Primary Years Programme (PYP)” uses a framework with transdisciplinary themes of global significance that allow students to utilize knowledge and skills from six subject areas and multiple disciplines.
“We’re teaching ethics; we’re teaching sustainability; we’re teaching how to have compassion and empathy for others and we’re teaching service,” said Tanya Parker, Executive Director of ICSAtlanta. “IB is difficult because it makes you think about how you deliver information to students, but once you get past the difficulty, the rewards are immense. The children have really bought into it. The questions students are asking, and the thoughts they have are amazing. They are learning to ask the right questions and not to fear questioning.”
Parker is in her fourth year at the helm of the school. She has worked in education for 23 years and began serving as a member of ICSAtlanta’s board of directors prior to the school’s first year of operation.
“I was immediately invested in this idea of free immersion education, because you really couldn’t find it anywhere,” said Parker. “There were a few traditional public schools that had language tracks, but this was something very different and something very ambitious.”
During the school’s first year of operation, ICS Atlanta had close to 300 students in grades K-3. Now, the school has an upper and lower campus and serves approximately 800 students.
Parker said students take language proficiency tests in the 2nd and 5th grades. This year, the school will also give proficiency tests to its first class of 8th graders. She is pleased with student performance on the language test and said it continues to get better every year.
“Our language tests are coming back amazing,” said Parker. “The scores are blowing us all away. They are testing novice mid, novice high, advanced, and some of these kids have only been with us for a year to a year and a half, and they are making these gains.”
Parker said the school also focuses on the Georgia standards as part of its curriculum and makes sure students are on track in key subjects like Math and English Language Arts. If students are falling behind, ICSAtlanta offers early intervention and remedial education. For the past several years, the school has met the academic and financial expectations set by the State Charter Schools Commission. ICSAtlanta was also just named as the number one elementary charter school in Georgia and the number one public elementary school in Fulton County by Niche.com.
Parker attributes the ranking to the school’s academic offerings and unique school culture. She said ICSAtlanta celebrates diversity and provides opportunities for students and staff to partake in cultural events from all of the language tracks offered by the school, which fosters a sense of community.
“Our student body and teachers represent many different cultures, countries and economic backgrounds. The diversity creates better conversation, more critical thinking skills and makes students more accepting of others. They learn that there is always more than one perspective.”
Parker also said the school works hard to develop a positive school culture and thrives due to parent, student and teacher buy-in. She said ICSAtlanta has a tight-knit teacher and staff community that believes in the school’s mission, which “strives to prepare students for a successful future by promoting academic excellence through rigorous instruction that includes multilingualism, cultural awareness, respect, and tolerance for others … ”
“They feel part of the mission,” said Parker. They feel like they are really making a difference with these students, and they are creating something different and great.”
Now that the school has expanded to the eighth grade, received IB World approval, and is on a positive academic trajectory, Parker wants to focus on taking the school to the next level.
“My hope is that ICS Atlanta goes from good to great. I think we’re already well on our way,” said Parker. “We’re creating something here, and what we’re creating are children that can go out into the world and make a difference.”