Marlena DeLuca and Vanessa Faiola share a great deal in common.
Both are mothers of young children, and work as foreign language teachers in local school systems. Both studied overseas and graduated from colleges in Rhode Island.
More than four years ago, they began discussing their respective five-year plans. They developed a concept for a preschool focused on foreign language immersion – a place where youngsters could reap the myriad benefits of a bilingual education and begin a lifelong learning process.
“We wanted this for our children,” Faiola said. “We wanted our children to be bilingual, biliterate and bicultural … Exposing a child to a second language is one of the best gifts you can give a child.”
The women faced obstacles and skepticism along the way but remained focused on their vision. Now, it has been realized through the New Era Enrichment Academy in Johnston.
“It’s a hidden gem,” DeLuca said of the academy, which opened its doors more than a month ago. “We’re not just educators, we’re constant learners. We have worked very hard to make our dream a reality … Blood, sweat and tears went into this building.”
DeLuca and Faiola oversaw virtually every aspect of the Hebdeen Street facility, from its physical layout to the programming. Set back off Putnam Pike (Route 44), the academy is designed as a safe, nurturing environment for students as young as 6 weeks old.
Its classrooms are bright and colorful, with specific spaces laid out for various activities and areas of focus. The academy also has an outdoor classroom, play area and garden, and nature trails are being developed to further enhance the curriculum.
“We want the kids to enjoy the atmosphere as much as the learning,” DeLuca said.
New Era utilizes a broad range of learning tools, including games, books, music, state-of-the-art technology such as Apple iPads and the celebration of holidays and cultural events. Foreign language immersion is at the heart of the academy’s approach, but fostering “exploration learning” is also essential.
Lessons incorporate many subjects, which DeLuca and Faiola said both prepares the youngest students for kindergarten and allows for an adaptive approach to language instruction. Some students may have a strong interest in math, for example, and can be engaged most effectively in language lessons within that context.
“It’s a very different concept,” DeLuca said, noting that the period from birth to 5 years old is statistically the most essential to a child’s development. “This is a full curriculum-based school … Language boosts learning across the board.”
“There’s no disconnect. We want it to be a flow … We want the learning to continue even after the learning’s done,” Faiola said.
Among the youngest students, instruction is split evenly between English and Spanish. As the children grow and advance, the use of Spanish becomes more frequent. Basic sign language is also utilized.
Currently, New Era focuses on Spanish immersion, with Italian programming also offered as enrichment. Students are grouped and advanced by age, with sections for those age 6 weeks to 18 months; 18 months to 3 years; 3 years; and 4 and 5 years. There are also programs for those ages 6 to 12, as well as tutoring and a summer camp.
Programming is available before, during and after school hours, and both full-day and half-day options are available. The nature of the instruction also allows for students to enter a particular class or group at any point. All staff members are bilingual, highly qualified, hold the required certifications and comply with state standards.
New Era’s approach is additionally designed to broaden children’s cultural horizons, and to foster a true sense of community. DeLuca and Faiola said family members of students are provided with online resources and means of staying connected to their children’s lessons and progress.
“We want parents and families to be a part of this community,” Faiola said.
“I have seen so many children flourish based on the fact their families are involved,” DeLuca said.
DeLuca teaches Spanish and Italian in Warwick’s schools, and also residents in that city with her husband and daughter. She received her teaching degree from Providence College, and studied in both Mexico and Rome, Italy.
Faiola grew up in Johnston and teaches Spanish in that town’s schools. She resides in Cranston with her husband and son. A graduate of Rhode Island College, she also studied in Italy and Mexico.
Both cite the Rhode Island Roadmap to Language Excellence – which in part calls for the creation of sequenced world language education curricula beginning at the pre-kindergarten level – as an inspiration for New Era, and said they maintain a dialogue with other educational professionals and organizations around the state.
“We are pretty much piloting that concept at this age group,” DeLuca said.
The women also hope local schools begin incorporating a similar approach to foreign language instruction.
“We like to see the districts in the area start at a younger age,” Faiola said.
DeLuca said the “next five-year plan” for she and Faiola is the inclusion of Mandarin and other global business languages into New Era’s curriculum.
New Era is hosting an open house from noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 17. The event will feature food, games, a tour of the facility and the chance to win a free week of class time at the school.
New Era Enrichment Academy is located at 13 Hebdeen St. in Johnston. For additional information, visit www.neweraenrichment.com or call 349-3397.