Fresh off our annual lottery -- which saw 1,000 applications for 30 open spots -- I found myself thinking about the skills students will need for success as adults.
Years of experience working to improve conditions for children and families informed my answer to this. I also have weighed years of designing and providing professional development programs for educators and community leaders, and considerable study and global travel.
For me, there are many components to success. These include the need to start teaching children life skills early; and to prepare them to be global citizens, with a dual focus on academic excellence and personal development.
These are among the reasons behind my decision to create the Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom Public Charter School in the District's Brookland neighborhood.
Stokes teaches students to think, speak, read, write and learn in two languages: French and English, or Spanish and English. Our mission is to prepare our culturally diverse pre-K and elementary school students to be leaders, scholars and responsible global citizens who are committed to social justice -- community service also is a key part of our educational program.
Research has indicated that, while there are many factors involved in student performance on standardized tests, including the Scholastic Aptitude Test, bilingual students may do better overall than their monolingual peers.
A George Mason University study discovered that younger students who had enrolled in a second language immersion program outperformed those who did not in coursework, as well as on standardized tests, throughout their scholastic careers.
Learning additional languages improves one's ability to focus, plan and solve problems. Among other benefits, this means that such students are better able to move efficiently from one subject to another. The Center for Applied Linguistics has ascertained that the earlier we learn a foreign language, the greater the benefits.
When students graduate, being fluent in a second language improves their career prospects. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a number of emerging occupations need workers who can speak and write in more than one language.
A University of Florida study revealed that in large, linguistically diverse cities like Miami and San Antonio, the ability to speak a second language translates into more than $7,000 of increased annual income.
The economic importance of being bilingual is highlighted by the fact that, according to international executive search firm Korn/Ferry, 31 percent of CEOs speak at least two languages.
I believe that exposure to a new language and the skills it helps develop is a key reason that our students score 16 percentage points higher on D.C.'s standardized reading and math tests than their peers in the city's traditional public school system.
Preparing our students to be high achievers in secondary school requires a practical approach to learning. Our sixth-graders put their language and learning skills to good use by studying outside the United States -- in Panama for students learning in Spanish and Martinique for students learning in French -- studying other cultures and histories as well as using their language skills.
Many Stokes alumni are enrolled in prestigious colleges. Others attend area high-performing charters, magnet and academically selective public schools and prestigious private schools on scholarship.
Stokes recently announced a partnership with Washington Yu Ying Public Charter School, Latin American Montessori Bilingual Public Charter School, Mundo Verde Bilingual Public Charter School and DC Bilingual Public Charter School to create a language immersion middle and high school, which will offer Mandarin, as well as French and Spanish.
Students enrolled at the five founding schools will have a guaranteed place at the new D.C. International School. This will be the first public secondary school in the District to offer bilingual immersion.
I believe in teaching our children to become global citizens, and starting early, adding an additional language now -- and maybe more later.
Linda Moore is founder and executive director of Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom Public Charter School.