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« Woodstock -- Mandarin Immersion Program | Main | School 2.0 lecture - recap »

The International School - profile

The International School is an independent preK-5th grade International Baccalaureate school which is also full immersion in 3 separate language tracks: Chinese (Mandarin), Japanese, and Spanish. Located in close-in SW Portland, it draws students from all over the metro area whose parents value 2nd language development for their children.  We talked with a few parents in the different language tracks and sum up their take on the school:

The Scoop Half-Full:

The International School (TIS) calls it “True Immersion” -- that is, for the elementary school, 65% of all learning is done fully in the target language (one of 3 languages, chosen early on), and taught by native speakers.  And while it’s not necessarily obvious at first, your child will no doubt reach proficiency by the end of the first or second year (and full fluency by the time they graduate).  Students’ language experience culminates in the 5th grade with their Capstone trip, where they spend 2 weeks traveling in a country of their language of study.  Paid for by tuition, the Capstone trip is a mix of cultural immersion with native families and touring the sites – certainly an incredible experience after several years of study.

For many parents this rich cultural learning experience for their developing bilingual child is enough of a sell.  But add to that an IB curriculum with class sizes under 20 kids, and the glass half-full seems quite full.  The IB Primary Years Programme, impossible to sum up here, is an inquiry based style of learning where students are trained to question and be curious, which drives their learning.  International Baccalaureate, which was originally developed for ex-pat families, encourages a spirit of international-mindedness that fits in nicely at TIS – since no matter what language track your child is in, the kids are frequently exposed to the other 2 cultures at the school. 

In addition to the foreign language education at TIS, there are all the other goodies that kids and parents love: Gym, Art, Music, Garden, Library time and of course, English.  The parents I spoke with raved about the teachers of all these subjects.  And they also agreed that by and large the parent community was well-organized with its volunteer efforts, something not to be taken for granted in any school.

The Scoop Half-Empty: 

For many, $13,000 a year plus expected fundraising is a tough swallow, though the possibility of financial aid may make it more palatable.  And while the tuition pays for what parents feel is a great education (not to mention fluency in a second language), some families are frustrated that few options exists for their kids to continue along the multi-cultural path.  TIS stops in the 5th grade, and unless you lottery in to a PPS language immersion program (which may or may not have spots) or apply to the private Gilkey International Middle School (which offers Mandarin and Spanish, among other languages) then your child’s bilingual education will come to a screeching halt if your family doesn’t support the language at home.

Another thing we hear is that while the small class sizes are fantastic on the one hand, there is some attrition in the upper grades.  This means that while your child learns in a larger tri-cultural community, the peer group for each language can become quite small, which might be an issue for some kids.  It should also be mentioned that the centrally located campus (a plus for many) is tucked away in a somewhat awkward part of SW, surrounded by freeways and heavily trafficked streets, with very limited parking.  A drop-off system facilitates the morning rush, but you’ll have to exercise your patience if you want to walk your child into school.

Daunting for some families is the required 25 volunteer hours per year, which can be slow to add up. And finally, TIS has begun the search for a new Head of School to start June 2012.  Though parents have confidence the Board will find a qualified candidate to replace the current highly-regarded Head of School, leadership changes can be unsettling for any school community.


Do you have any experience with The International School?  Feel free to clarify or add to this profile! 

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Reader Comments (7)

We're beginning this year with staggered start times, to see if that eases the drop-off crunch. It's going to be tough to be in the classroom by 7:45 am, (Class starts at 8:00) but maybe it will alleviate the parking/traffic issues.

August 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLeslee

The fees are an issue for some, but compare very favorably with other independent schools in the area! For parents who engage it's a fantastic community, and we think TIS is giving our kids a great head start: they love going to school, are confident learners and can talk (and write!) in Mandarin - how cool is that?

September 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLinda

Northwest Academy is also a great middle and high school option for graduates of TIS and other language immersion programs. In addition to a challenging, college prep academic program and a full arts curriculum, Northwest Academy now also offers fluent level classes for students with near-native fluency in Spanish and French for students coming from immersion programs. Next year, Northwest Academy plans to add a similar class for Mandarin students.

September 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLainie

TIS' is hosting a middle school info night, with representatives of various schools coming to meet with parents -- evidence that TIS is trying to help families find the best next school for their children. And there are more options this year.

October 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLeslee

I noticed that TIS is looking for a new head of school, and the current head has been there only since 2009. Does anyone have any information or thoughts on that transition?

November 8, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterj

Since this was written, much has changed. School used to have a real sense of community, which has disappeared. Teachers do not seem to be supported by administration at all. Neither are parent concerns heeded. Language track teachers are awesome, some English teachers are awesome, but administration very difficult to deal with. And buyer beware - Capstone is not entirely covered by tuition as lots of things required that school doesn't pay for. Teachers - full glass. Language learning - full glass. Admin - buy your own glass!

January 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterD.

It is now 17,000 a year.

January 3, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterParent at TIS

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