We have been at DLS for going on four years now. While I cannot speak for the Spanish program, our experience in the Mandarin program has been really wonderful. I do agree that if you have a child who has trouble with a highly academic, structured school environment, this is probably not the school for them. DLS expects a very high level of academic achievement from the students, and this shows up in their test scores. My daughter, who has just average ability in math (takes after me, unfortunately) is testing at a year above grade level due to the math instruction at DLS. Yes, parents are asked to read with their children in English for twenty minutes per night, but if you deliberately choose to place your child in a full-immersion language school, I believe that that is part of the commitment for which you are signing up. I don't feel that I have been "homeschooling" my kids in English, but we do commit to the nightly reading time, and they are now (in 1st and 3rd grade) both reading at grade level in English. The "specials" are great, especially art and music, and all the teachers my kids have had are very caring and rigorous instructors. We couldn't be happier with our experience at DLS.
DLS is not perfect but what school is? I believe that we need to give schools time to implement all the feedback given. I know this is true because I've been a public school educator for 15 year, 4 of which have been in DPS. The parent community is active at DLS and they offer many opinions. I found the leadership of Kathy and her team to be top notch. They have slowly but very thoughtfully implemented the feedback given to them. After all, they're the experts in language immersion, NOT parents. Rome was not built in a day, people. Let's leave the instruction and running of a school to the people who are experts.
This is my third year as a parent of a child in the Mandarin immersion program. As with any new school, there were bumps in the road at DLS--a few poor administrators and some disorganization. However, our experience has been overwhelmingly positive. My child has made slow but steady progress in Chinese and she has excelled in math. The art program is top-notch and we appreciate the cultural education aspects of the school. Another great thing about the school is the friendly community of parents. I predict that this school will get better and better over time! I am thankful for the opportunity to enroll my daughter in an immersion program.
Administration ignores parent input; all the time spent on feedback and suggestions has been a complete waste of time. It's embarrassing how bad the English teachers are. They claim credit for the fact that their students have good standard test scores in English, but they don't start teaching English until 3rd grade -- and they do it so poorly -- so these test scores are much more a testament of parents who are essentially home-schooling their kids in English, and so many parents are getting English tutors for their kids. Volunteer parents with professional skills to offer are ignored while the administration (unsuccessfully) micromanages tasks. Half-days on Friday are such a pain for working parents and the aftercare program is impossible to get into; we've been on a waitlist for three years! The half days are supposedly for "teacher training" but there is no accountability for what they are supposed to be trained on -- the administration refuses to offer any information on this. They are definitely not being trained on handling bullying, special ed, or communication with parents. They teach Singapore Math, but haven't been trained on this teaching method and they are not using the manipulatives, which are a key component to this math program. In the middle school target-language language arts classes, students are not reading books or doing book reports in the target language, so they are well behind their peers in these skills. A middle school class was assigned a 10-page research report but was given NO guidance on how to do this, so it turned into an exercise in plagiarism and blogging. Language teachers have been showing feature-length Disney movies in English just to kill time -- no academic value. One class was shown a R-rated movie with seriously adult themes! The bottom line is that this school has no over-arching curriculum plan or guidance for the teachers, and it shows. The school is five years old and is still just throwing things together without and understanding of the big picture for our kids.
Bullying is rampant. Teachers and administration ignore the issue. The English program is unfocused and English teachers are under-qualified; they produce assignments full of grammatical and punctuation errors! Academics in general are average to poor, and they get worse as the grade level increases, to the point that the attrition rate in the upper grades is approaching 50% in some classes; parents who care about academic quality pull their kids out. They don't have any plan for accommodating high or low achievers; kids who perform above grade level are unchallenged and bored, while kids who struggle are left behind.
My daughter is in the Chinese program for 1 1/2 years and was able to communicate when we went to China. According to the Chinese, she did not have an accent. The school environment is positive and teachers have energy. I appreciate the cultural activities as well. Parents are dedicated and a strong community is built between the school, parents, and students.
Wow...giving dls a one star, that's completely unfair and inaccurate. Dls has provided my child now in 6th grade with an outstanding education and it still does. The new math teacher is doing a great job and has strengthened, not weakened the program. I'm not sure what other parents are so "livid" about. The 5th and 6th grade share teachers and are considered part of the middle school. Teachers are great and truly care. My child is happy with school resources, activities and absolutely loves learning a third language this year. The principal is working hard trying to communicate to parents all the changes and improvements in the program. Unfortunately parents are not showing up to the latest informational meetings and are making wrong assumptions. We will definitely stay and enjoy everything that this wonderful school has to offer.
K-5 is running smoothly, but the middle school is a train wreck. This year is the first year for the middle school with two 6th grade classes and they just weren't ready for it. It's just like another year of elementary school. There are 600 kids at the school, but only about 30 in middle school. All the middle school teachers also work in the K-5 program and they teach accordingly. One teacher has been using the same material for 6th grade as for her 5th grade class. Math has been weakened by staff changes (we find out soon if the 6th grade will have their 3rd math teacher for this year or if they will stick with the 2nd one). Science is currently being "taught" by an English lit graduate. My child in 6th grade gets less homework than my child grades below does. There are no after-school programs aimed at the middle school. There's widespread worry that the school is not focused on preparing students to go to high school. Parents of 6th grade kids are livid. Some (like us) are using outside tutoring to compensate for the lack of rigor. The school is finally now trying to respond, but I'm certain that many 6th grade parents will enter the school choice lottery... just in case.
All teachers in this particular school must be "highly qualified." The teachers at Denver Language School are required to take and pass the Praxis II exam. When the school first started not all teachers had taken and passed this exam. Teachers who did not pass the exam by summer of 2012 were not retained. As a parent of a student with extreme emotional needs I know that students with social-psychological issues receive a ton of support. But it's up to us parents to ensure that our students are ready for school, capable of abiding by school rules and receiving what other help they need outside of school. We are also responsible for making those decisions best for our students which at times may involve waiting a year to start school (red-shirting), taking time off school or even changing to schools which offer a deeper level of emotional support. I myself may have my child attend an HGT program but only because that's what's best for this particular child and is not reflection on the school. My child's teacher differentiates as best as possible but a several-year span on abilities is difficult for any school to achieve in a single classroom.
DLS is very good at teaching Math and language and they have an amazing art and gym teacher. For students who learn well in teacher centered classrooms DLS is a good option. There are a lot of wonderful supportive families in this community. DLS has a long way to go to develop a philosophy and a practice of teaching the whole child and of creating a caring warm culture. There is a lot of bullying and shaming that happens at DLS from both students and teachers, which has plagued the school since it opened. Very few of the Mandarin teachers (I can't speak for the Spanish program) are licensed educators so they lack the skills or the knowledge to respond to the social emotional needs of kids. There is a new principal who is very good, but she has a difficult job reforming the culture of the school and teaching teachers about good quality instructional practices. If you have a child who is emotionally fragile or has any learning or behavior difficulties this is probably not a good fit. The new leadership team, may be able to create a school that is about more than just teaching language, but it is going to take several years.