George Lucas Educational Foundation

John Stanford International School

Grades K-5 | Seattle, WA

Success Spoken Here: Preparing Citizens of the World

For more than 12 years, Seattle's John Stanford International School has been a model for international schools, immersing its elementary students in global awareness and achieving academically as well.
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Narrator: At 7:00 A.M. on a Thursday, several hundred of Seattle's movers and shakers gather to eat breakfast and watch a unique talent show. Not your average bake sale, this event will raise enough money in two hours to fund many of the programs at John Stanford International School, which recently won top honors in the Intel and Scholastic Schools of Distinction Competition.

I come from Honduras.

Man: Honduras. Where are you from?


Narrator: The school could have been honored for its multicultural perspective...

I come from Mongolia.

Man: Mongolia.

Narrator: ...or its integration of technology, art, and music...

Narrator: ...or the active participation of parents and community members.

Narrator: But its main claim to fame is its language-immersion approach to learning.

Narrator: Students here choose a Spanish or Japanese language track.

Narrator: They spend half a day studying math and science in their chosen language...

Narrator: ...and the other half learning social studies and language arts in English.

Woman: Tell me about what happens at the beginning. Let's start at the beginning of the folktale.

Karen: When we first started, we had no idea what our curriculum should be and what we should teach in that second language, and of course, we thought social studies at first because that's where all the meat is. We talk about cultures and things. Wrong. That's very abstract. So the idea was we took math and science, because that's where you have a lot of the hands-on.

Hiromi: Research shows math and science is easier as a second language because there are so many hands-on activities, and we can do a lot of project-based activities so that we can integrate the language-acquisition part in the subject-content learning.

Narrator: Whether they call it "yodo" or "humus," kids at John Stanford know what they're learning.

Claire: And we're studying dirt.

Narrator: While most of the students are Americans learning Spanish and Japanese, 25 percent of John Stanford's students are immigrants, who practice their newly acquired English skills by reciting poetry during the morning announcements.

All: Alligator pie. Alligator pie. If I don't get some, I think I'm gonna die.

Karen: Our children from other countries are learning English. Our children who are English speakers are learning Japanese and Spanish. So we really level the playing field. Everyone understands what it takes to learn a language, and everyone then begins to appreciate each other.

Narrator: Technology also helps level the playing field, especially for the newcomers.

Pat: Once you've picked your flag, then you can write about your countries just a little bit.

Pat: What the kids are doing right now is they're working on a program called Kid Pix, and what it does is helps the kids to learn how to manipulate images, how to do some drawing.

Now you can move it like that.

Pat: I think it's so engaging for a lot of kids, and especially kids who have come from places where this technology is not around. They're moving in from chalkboards and their own little slate to write on, to this, and I think it's really empowering. I mean, I think that they feel like they're a part of what's going on and a part of the future.

Karen: Music as art is a way also to go in and talk about cultures and learn about world cultures. We felt if we were going to do a global curriculum that music and art were very important, as well as learning a language.

Hannah, what are you going to have?

Narrator: Kodama, who started the school in 2000, does a bit of everything here, from serving up lunch every day to hosting a constant stream of visitors.

What would you like?

Karen: This is a group of educators from Japan, and they're here to learn about an American school system and to learn from us, and I think we learn just as much from them.

Narrator: Visitors marvel at the school's ability to teach second-language skills while constantly improving their test scores, which for 2005 showed 90 percent proficiency in English and 79 percent in math.

Gary: When you look at the background of their kids speaking totally different languages and learning another language, to have such high test scores in the state is absolutely remarkable. But it actually shows that learning in other languages actually helps in the brain development.

Gary: It's that flexibility of the brain that's really helping the brain develop and will be with our kids for the rest of their life.

P.J.: If I go to Japan, I want to order something to eat, I just say it. In Japanese. It's easy. [Speaking Japanese] That means, "Can I please have a hard-boiled egg?"

Narrator: Teacher collaboration and parent involvement are crucial to the success of the immersion curriculum.

Hiromi: I love team teaching. We can see each child in three dimensions. Each teacher has a different perspective, gives a wonderful whole picture of each student, and that helps me teach each student too.

But he's doing great. He's very flexible with numbers.

Amy: So it's our job to be sure that we know what the other teachers are teaching. If the Japanese teacher is teaching geometry in class, but the Spanish teacher is teaching algebraic sense in class, then I have to somehow find a way to support both of those concepts in each of those different classes. And when you share a kid, you have to always be sure that everybody is on the same page, everybody knows what services their student is getting and everybody knows if the parent has contacted you about a situation or an issue that's come up and we all have to be able to have the time to talk to each other about all that.

Narrator: John Stanford parents help raise funds to pay for six native-language instructional aides.

Narrator: They also support a sister-school relationship with Escuela Primera Juan de la Barrera, the public elementary school in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Students and parents raise money for the school, which they visit during their winter break.

Mary: The kids go into the classroom for the week that we're in Puerto Vallarta. They go into complete immersion at that point. It's on the playground and everywhere. Our school offers an understanding and celebration of culture. The kids, they're just going to look at the world a completely different way, and I think that we're really, really fortunate to have that.

Narrator: In addition to acquiring a second language, John Stanford students gain something even more valuable, an appreciation for diversity.

Karen: When we talk about acceptance of others and what it means for children to be respectful of each other, you could talk about it and say you should be nice to others. But it's putting children in situations where they begin to learn with each other, play with each other, and see that we come from other cultures and other places, but we all smile in the same language.

Narrator: For more information on what works in public education, go to

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Video Credits

Produced, Written, and Directed by

  • Ken Ellis

Associate Producer:

  • Amy Erin Borovoy


  • Karen Sutherland

Assistant Editor:

  • Amy Erin Borovoy

Camera Crew:

  • Rob Weller
  • Eric Soma


  • Michael Pritchard

Still Photographs Courtesy of

  • Barry Wong Photography

Editor's Note: Since this video was produced in 2006, principal Karen Kodama moved on to become the director of international education for Seattle Schools. All of John Stanford International School's many programs are now flourishing under the direction of the new principal, Jesely Alvarez. For more updates, check out our 2013 Schools That Work package on John Stanford International School.

Read a 2013 update.

Comments (5) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Sara Armstrong's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This powerful video makes many wonderful points about the importance of 21st century skills to prepare today's students for their futures. From the roles the principal assumes to the dedication of the teams of teachers to the engagement of the students in creative and technical endeavors--this video is inspiring!

Beth M's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

What a wonderful and innovative way to incorporate the languages and backgrounds of the students and to develop a real world community. This is inspiring!

Yvonne's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Awarded TWO A's: "Applause and Awesome" to the John Stanford International School for the innovative and extrodinary efforts given to the education of their students. I sat amazed at how engrossed the students were during their exercises in both languages and I was very impressed with their overall testing scores.

This just encourages me in my quest for my masters in education; as my BS is in Speech Pathology(1987)supporting my search in the field of education that still holds so much promise as your school so aptly demonstrated. :)

Patty's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

WOW! This video was inspiring! Kudos to all of you! Seen these children appreciate and accept each other by acquiring each others language and culture gives them such an advantage at accepting others and seen others how God truly sees us, that we are all the same regarding where we come from, or what language we speak. It gives them skills to integrate and relate to others in a totally different level.

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