By Kaitlyn Swahlan y
AL DIA TODAY
PALM BAY – When Madhu Longani, principal of Palm Bay Academy Charter School, talks about their K-8 immersion programs, anybody can see how proud she is.
“We are living in a global world. These children already have the language down, so it opens up so many doors for them,” Longani said.
The school’s incoming kindergarteners can choose to learn either Mandarin or Spanish for their dual language program.
Students receive instruction in both their chosen language and English, making them bilingual at an early age.
Longani understands the importance of being a global citizen in today’s world. She grew up in Delhi, India. It was there that she studied and went to college, receiving a bachelor’s degree in science and later a master’s degree in English Language and Literature.
Once married, she moved to the United States and had a son.
She began working in banks in order to help support her family so that her husband could go back to school and get an engineering degree. Once her son began school, she decided to work at the Montessori school he attended.
In 1993, she moved to Florida and opened her own Montessori school.
Starting with less than 20 students, families began spreading the word about how much they and their children loved the school. It quickly began to grow, to the point where Longani started turning families away due to lack of space.
The school began as a pre-k and kindergarten, but parents started asking her if she could expand the school to first and second grade students. In 1998, she decided to open her own charter school in Palm Bay, Florida. In 2001, she moved the school to a new building, where it is currently located.
A few years later, she began to do research on language immersion schools. In 2006, she started a language immersion program at the school with both Mandarin and Spanish for students to choose from.
“All of the teachers are native speakers, ensuring that students do not develop any accent when learning the languages,” Madhu explained.
Roxana Herrera, director of the Spanish program, grew up in Puerto Rico and went to college to pursue a career in dentistry. She later arrived to the U.S. in 1995 with her mother and young son.
Her son then started school at Space Coast Montessori school when he was 5 years old.
Longani was one of his teachers, but after two years, he had to leave the school because they only offered classes up to first grade.
Then, Herrera lost touch with the school and teacher.
Years later, she saw an ad in the newspaper saying the school had grown and expanded and was looking for Spanish teachers for the immersion program. In 2001, she went in for an interview with Longani, her son’s old teacher, and start working in Palm Bay Academy Charter School.
While working as a teacher, Herrera went back to school to the University of Central Florida to get a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education with a minor in Psychology.
“I teach in English and Spanish to kindergarten students, and enjoys working at the school,” Herrara said. “My students practice singing in Spanish, and all of the commands that I use are in Spanish as well.”
Herrera has students of Hispanic descent, but also has many that do not come from Spanish-speaking households. She loves working together with her principal and fellow teachers to teach globally minded young citizens.
Yunming Edge, another teacher at Palm Bay Academy, is the head of the Mandarin program.
Growing up in Guangzhou, near Hong Kong in southern China, she attended college there and became a teacher in her hometown. In college, she studied Chinese language and literature and taught Chinese language arts in a high school for eight years until 1990, when she moved to the U.S. with her husband.
They lived in Omaha, Nebraska, where they had their daughter.
Growing up in China, Edge learned English in high school. Because her husband was from Melbourne, they decided to move there just a few years later.
In Melbourne, Edge worked at MIMA for 5 years as a certified medical coder. In 2007, she heard that Palm Bay Academy was looking for Chinese teachers. She was excited by the opportunity, as she was still passionate about teaching and had experience in the field.
She has been teaching there ever since.
“The most important way of teaching and learning is the face-to-face interaction. Even though it is not “high tech”, it is very important for students to learn personal skills in order to communicate with others,” Edge said.
“I hope more students will come, as learning Chinese is a skill that will open up the door to many new opportunities in life.”
For students to be accepted in Palm Bay Academy Charter School, they must be 5 years of age by Sept. 2. The school is located at 2112 Palm Bay Rd NE, Palm Bay, FL 32905.
For more information, contact (321) 984-2710.