The Hamilton Spectator
High school’s global vibe is ‘like travelling’
Glendale Secondary first in North America to receive ‘language-friendly’ designation
Joanna Duong remembers her first day at a new school, in a new country.
A poster outside her English as a second language (ESL) class that read “welcome” in Vietnamese made the homesickness she had experienced since moving to Canada weeks earlier fade.
“I felt at home,” the 18-year-old said. “I don’t see that barrier anymore.”
In fall 2022, Glendale Secondary School was officially designated a “language-friendly school” (LFS), joining a global movement to make education settings more linguistically and culturally welcoming to students, families and staff. The school formally announced it at a ceremony on Feb. 21.
“Every language is accepted and valued at Glendale, and through this title we feel inclusion,” Duong said. The Grade 12 student grew up in Russia and speaks “three and a half” languages — Russian, Vietnamese and English fluently, and Korean with some proficiency.
The east Hamilton school is the first high school in North America to earn the designation and just one other school in Canada — an elementary school in Mississauga — is an LFS.
Teacher Marjorie Hewitt, who spearheaded the project at Glendale, describes the designation as a label and a network.
“You make an intentional agreement in writing that you are going to honour and respect and welcome all languages at the school ... and also that you never discourage parents from speaking their first language at home with their children,” the English as a second language (ESL) teacher said.
Schools in the network, which was co-founded by a professor from University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), make a commitment to assess where they’re at, and develop strategies to improve language friendliness in the community.
Instead of a bell, music from around the world now marks the end of classes throughout the day. Student ambassadors, including Duong, have been designated to support newcomer students and their parents in their first languages.
Teachers, who are “excited” to use language-friendly strategies in their classrooms, encourage use of translation apps and assign duallanguage work, Hewitt said.
“We want students to be able to maintain their first language, and we know that if they have strong literacy in their first language, that in their second language they’re going to be even stronger,” she said.
Principal David Schroeder said the designation was a “natural fit” for Glendale, where 41 per cent of students speak a first language other than English.
“Glendale has always been a very diverse community and a diverse school, and it’s always celebrated the diversity of the students in the building,” he said.
In total, students speak about 50 languages.
“It’s like travelling at Glendale,” Duong said.
As a student ambassador, she has gotten to know peers from around the world, including from Egypt and Colombia.
But she also has several groups of friends who share her languages and cultures. At lunch, she catches up with a group of about 20 Vietnamese students. With a different group of friends, Duong speaks Russian. She says she’s still trying to find a Korean friend to practice with.
“Whenever I meet the person that is from my country, from Vietnam and Russia, I’m excited to help them out. And I can understand how hard it is for them, like, to be here for the first time because I remember myself here on the first day,”