In a highly competitive process, one of Cleveland’s public charter schools has been awarded nearly a half million dollars in new federal funding. The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) recently notified Northeast Ohio’s only Mandarin and Spanish immersion school—the independent, public charter school known as Global Ambassadors Language Academy (GALA)—that it would receive $493,277 over a two- year period to support its unique education model and growth. GALA is the only school in Ohio awarded funding this year under the DOE’s Office of Innovation and Improvement program. With additional funding expected if GALA meets milestones during the grant period, the school could receive a total of about $1.2 million from DOE over the next five years.
The additional funding will allow GALA to continue to meet the demands of a growing student population, adding grade levels and building new classroom spaces to accommodate children from kindergarten through 8th grade. GALA is tuition-free, relying on philanthropy and grants to supplement public funding that does not typically provide the resources required for its unique educational model. In year one, 21.6% of the total cost of the program will be financed with Federal money, and approximately $200,000 (11.3%) from non-governmental sources.
The Charter Schools National Dissemination Grant Competition supports excellence in charter schools, providing funds for growth and expansion of high performing schools. In receiving the award, the tuition-free GALA, located on Cleveland’s west side, demonstrated its success in helping its diverse and fast-growing population of young students thrive academically, as well as provide a solid path to become bilingual and bi-literate in both English and in Spanish or Mandarin. These youngsters are already achieving high levels of academic success and developing cross-cultural skills that will help them succeed in years to come.
The new funding will allow GALA to expand and serve more than 500 students, kindergarten through 8th grade, by 2023. Currently, the Cleveland west side-based school draws a diverse body of students from across Northeast Ohio, most of whom are considered low-income (families qualify for free or reduced lunch). GALA’s students bring diverse experiences and cultures to the classroom, coming from Asian, Black, Hispanic, Native American, White and multi-racial families. They are residents of Cleveland and 25 surrounding suburbs: Avon, Bay Village, Bedford, Berea, Brooklyn, Brunswick, Cleveland Heights, Elyria, Euclid, Fairview Park, Lakewood, Lorain, Maple Heights, Middleburg Heights, North Olmsted, Olmsted Falls, Parma, Richmond Heights, Rocky River, Shaker Heights, Strongsville, Solon, Warrensville Heights, Westlake and Wickliffe.
The Department of Education first notified Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur of the award as the school resides in her Congressional district. “The Global Ambassadors Language Academy, which is the first dual language immersion school in Northeast Ohio, is successfully bringing federal education dollars back to our region,” says Kaptur. “In our ever globalized and interconnected world, any competitive edge we can provide Ohio’s youth will open doors beyond imagination. I congratulate GALA on winning this competitive grant which will help them expand and grow to serve more students.”
“GALA is an extraordinary learning environment for our children. Every day, students are immersed for 4 or more hours, receiving instruction of math, language arts, science, and social studies, in Mandarin or Spanish; while 2 to 2.5 hours are spent learning in English. GALA’s unique model helps students build dual language proficiency, excel in academics, and expand cognitive and socio-cultural skills,” says Meran Rogers, founder and executive director of GALA. “Our mission is to ensure that our students achieve lifelong academic success, bilingualism and appreciation for diversity. We believe that GALA is a successful model for addressing the great disparity in education by bringing the kind of language and cultural immersion experiences normally only available in high income suburban districts.”
“The decision by the Department of Education is an extraordinary vote of confidence in the educational model and the immersion process at GALA,” says Kristen Laughlin, GALA Board Chair. “We believe we are educating and preparing a new generation of engaged citizens of the world, starting in our diverse community of committed parents, students, faculty and staff. This award says we are doing it right, setting new standards, and to keep building on our vision.”
GALA was the brainchild of Meran Rogers, a parent, educator, and entrepreneur who grew up near GALA, in a multilingual immigrant household. She attended and worked in Cleveland and East Cleveland public schools, and was a teacher in Taiwan at an immersion school.
In 2012, GALA established a Board of Directors and 501c3 status. In December 2015, GALA submitted a charter application (Academic, Operation, and Financial Plan) to the Ohio Council for Community Schools (OCCS) and received sponsorship in May 2016. After nearly five years of planning, on August 3, 2016, GALA opened its doors to 60 K-1 students Today, GALA has more than tripled enrollment to 186 K-3 students this 2018-2019 school year.
Lenny Schafer, Executive Director of the Ohio Council for Community Schools congratulated GALA leadership: “The recognition is well-deserved. There simply is no school like GALA. It is changing the face of public education while providing a unique educational experience for almost 200 kids in Cleveland. We are extremely proud and looking forward to continued growth and progress.”
This year, there were 32 charter schools across the country awarded funding through the DOE’s Office of Innovation and Improvement program. GALA was the only school in Ohio.