Why Send Your Child to an International School?

Have you ever considered an international school? Benjamin Hebebrand, School Director of the German International School Chicago, explains the many benefits.

Choosing the right school for your child comes with many questions. What is the right curriculum? How will my child fit in? And, most of all, how can I help prepare my child for the future?

If you live in the Chicago area, you may not have considered the benefits of sending your preschool-8 child to an international school. In our increasingly global society, an international school can open doors for your child.

We asked Benjamin Hebebrand, School Director of the German International School Chicago, about his school’s philosophy, how the students benefit, and the specifics of getting a global education. The school is celebrating its 15th anniversary school year.

Q. How does being immersed in German or another language benefit preschool-8 students?

The younger the child, the easier it is to learn another language. It is astonishing to see how 3-year-olds who come to our preschool have basic conversational skills in German within a matter of a few months.

Teaching younger children another language allows them to think about the world of communicating from other perspectives. For example, if a 3-year-old preschooler is around people speaking a different language, they must think about how they can adapt. What are their choices? They will need to use the new language (such as singing along in morning circle time), communicate in sign language (teachers are modeling this), or pick up on non-verbal cues (reading facial expressions and recognizing body language) all of which obviously are incredibly helpful and beneficial communication skills.

The result of all of this is that kids will learn to communicate in cross-cultural environments while also developing an understanding of other cultures and people. They become bilingual while broadening their overall communication channels and skills.

Q. Is any English spoken at school for native English speakers?

Our preschool program is a German language only environment. Yes, if a student needs to communicate specific needs in English, they may do so during class. Maintaining a language-immersive approach in preschool, however, is key to acquiring fluency.

In Kindergarten through Grade 2, we add one daily English language class, giving our students the opportunity to follow a Language Arts curriculum identical to the one in U.S. elementary schools. Beginning in Grades 3-8, we employ both the English and German languages in the Math and Science curricula to foster true dual-language fluency in these subjects.

Our students study German and English until Grade 5 when they can choose to learn a third language, either French or Spanish. Our students leave our school bilingual or multilingual.

Q. What makes an international school in the U.S. unique in terms of its curriculum and teaching methods when compared to traditional domestic schools?

That is a multi-faceted answer. For one, we combine the German curriculum of the State of Baden-Württemberg and the U.S. Common Core curriculum. In addition, our teaching methods are based on the IB or International Baccalaureate. We are an authorized International Baccalaureate World School (and also accredited by U.S. accreditation agencies such as ISACS, the Independent Schools Association of the Central States, among others).

We have two areas of the IB: The Primary Years Program (PYP), which is Preschool-Grade 4, and the Middle Years Program (MYP) for Grades 5-8. The International Baccalaureate gives students many options for future study – they can attend U.S. schools including highly selective enrollment schools, international schools, and also schools in Germany as students will graduate with a Deutsches Sprachdiplom I (German Language Diploma I), an official exam of the German education ministry entitling students to attend any school in Germany or German International School across the globe.

If a student chooses – and the majority of our alumni so far have – they can complete high school at the Lycée Français de Chicago, where through a special partnership program students can continue their German language instruction with our teachers. This path allows students to earn a Bilingual IB Diploma (only 3% of all IB Diplomas issued in the U.S. are Bilingual IB Diplomas), which is highly valued by university systems in more than 100 nations.

German International School Chicago
Photo Credit: German International School Chicago

Q. What are some of the components of the International Baccalaureate (IB) methods of teaching?

One element of the IB philosophy is that we believe students need to be active learners and have self-agency. We don’t believe in spoon-feeding them the knowledge, but rather, helping them to develop a sense of inquiry.

For example, when we start a new unit we ask students – what do you already know, what do you want to learn in this unit, and what other questions do you have beyond this topic?

Our teachers are challenged to make sure our students’ questions are answered. This is extra motivation for a student to learn, because if they are asking the question, they must have some interest in the answer!

We use a transdisciplinary approach to subjects. So, if a student is learning something in English or German class, they will also learn about it in social studies, music, or even math. This way, students will see connections across the disciplines. A brain that makes connections across the subjects facilitates better learning and memory.

Q. How does an international school foster global perspectives and cultural awareness among American students?

One of the important aspects of the IB curriculum is that we present inquiries in an international context. We discuss a concept and compare and contrast it with other cultures and countries. For example, why do people in Germany do this, but people in the U.S. do that?

When you can pose questions in a global context, it is more exciting to students and gives them better insights into cross-cultural understanding. Our students become true citizens of the world. Attending our school and being in classrooms with peers from all over the world is the ideal environmental factor.

Q. How does attending an international school in the U.S. affect a student’s high school readiness and overall personal development?

GISC students are well-prepared for the selective high schools in our local area. Our students are also well-positioned to attend a high school anywhere in Germany and at many different locations around the world. For example, we have a student now attending a German International School in Mexico City. Another attends a highly selective IB school in Japan. 

Students who attend an international school are more willing to take risks, grow, and step out of their comfort zones.

What you get at the German International School Chicago you won’t get anywhere else. The options and outcomes for the kids are quite exciting. Literally, the world is theirs.

Find out more about the German International School Chicago at germanschoolchicago.com.

Jennifer Kales
Jennifer Kales
Content editor Jennifer Kales has been in the business of writing for more than 20 years creating advertising copy, blogs, books and everything in between. She loves helping Chicago Parent clients tell their stories in a way that resonates with audiences.

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