School of the Week: Foreign Language Immersion and Cultural Studies School (FLICS)

In Kaori Ohgata’s fourth grade class on a recent Tuesday, students studied their words of the week: worm, hello, sticky rice snack, and eye.

But these were not just any typical vocabulary words, and the students of the Foreign Language Immersion and Cultural Studies School (FLICS) weren’t using the American alphabet, No. 2 pencils or lined paper to practice them.

The students were deftly stretching out red clay and weaving the strands into shapes that created lines of Japanese script on the blank paper in front of them.

“Since the Japanese use a completely different writing system, this is a more physical way to learn, and kids like that,” said Ohgata, a Japanese language teacher at FLICS. In this style of teaching, called kinesthetic learning, teachers create lessons in which students are engaged in physical activity to aid learning, rather than just listening to a teacher or doing work from a textbook.

The Japanese class is just one of the many unique offerings at FLICS, located adjacent to the Renaissance High School campus in northwest Detroit.

FLICS, which houses grades K-8, is one of the only public immersion programs in the state, offering dual-language, partial-immersion programs in French, Spanish, Japanese, or Chinese. The FLICS language program now also offers a seamless K-12 language program by creating direct pathways to advanced language courses at the high school, making the FLICS language program one of the only K-12 language programs in the country, said Principal Todd Losié.

“After 8th grade at FLICS, our students have the potential to continue language study at their individual proficiency levels in high school and to continue that in college at the university level. So our students can have a 13-year secondary language continuum in one of the foreign languages, along with a seamless K-16 language continuum, which make us very unique,” Losié said.

In addition to providing a rigorous traditional academic curriculum, the FLICS K-8 program immerses its students in one of the four languages beginning in kindergarten. That means students as young as 5 begin conversing with their teachers in another language every day in their traditional classes. Most are taught in, or interwoven with, a foreign language.

Students learning their multiplication tables in Chinese

Fourth-grader Kynndel Johnson, 9, rattled off multiplication in rapid fire.

Speaking in Chinese in a sing-song fashion, she said, “1 times 2 is 2; 2 times 2 is 4; 3 times 2 is 6; 4 times 2 is 8…”

And on and on… all in CHINESE!

“The Chinese times tables are easier to learn because it’s fast and gets in your brain,” she said.

The FLICS program is designed to prepare exiting eighth-graders to be proficient in their chosen second language and to succeed at a college-preparatory high school. Exiting eighth-graders are assessed for second language proficiency and have the opportunity to earn high school credit in global language and Algebra.

FLICS also capitalizes on its proximity to Renaissance High School through male and female peer mentoring programs and a new grade 9 – 12 language continuation, allowing students to take advanced language courses taught by FLICS teachers at Renaissance.

Foreign language is everywhere at FLICS

The school hallways look like something out of the United Nations or a foreign embassy, with dozens of foreign flags hanging from the ceilings and posters written in many languages.

The key is starting students in a language early and immersing them in the language as much as possible, which is how native speakers learn their language, Losié said. Students tend to learn faster – and with little or no accent – when they start learning a language at an early age.

When Losié walks in classes, students greet him with their language of choice.

“Comment ca va?” a kindergarten boy asked unprovoked, in French, when Losié entered the room. (Translation: How are you?”)

“Ça va très bien,” said Losié, who routinely speaks French with teachers and students in the halls. He also speaks French when correcting students about how to stand in line or walk in the hallway and rattles off words and phrases he knows in the other languages, too.

In classes, teachers also speak in a foreign language when directing students on routine tasks like telling them to get the blue textbook (“Prenez le livre bleu,” a French teacher calls out to his class) or assist another student with classwork  (“Tu peux l’aider,” the teacher says to a student sitting next to another child who is struggling with a lesson) which is another method to ingrain the language in students’ learning.

Morgan Wood, a fourth-grade student who is studying Japanese, said the fact that she can already converse in another language will give her a leg up academically, including when vying for scholarships.

“This will help me when I go to college,” she said. “Some kids aren’t that lucky to learn Japanese in a public school.”

Detroit Public Schools’ technology-infused curriculum provides unique opportunities for students to polish their skills with native speakers. Throughout the district, all students in grades 6-12 have access to Netbook computers, and every teacher has a Netbook for classroom and home use. FLICS, like other schools, has new Apple MacBooks, and iPod touch units.  Mobile learning is embraced at FLICS; helping to reach students with the tools they use.

New this year is a program allowing Spanish-speaking students to Skype with a class at the Institución Educative Distrital La Magdelena in Columbia, creating a real-time tele-conference with students across the world. And even kindergartens are skillful with using iPods and other high-tech devices to hone their foreign language skills.

The rigorous curriculum means that many FLICS students eventually matriculate to the district’s elite examination schools like Cass Tech and Renaissance, but the school also has many programs for students who struggle in traditional classes. Losié said the school examines test data for each child, assessing their strengths and weaknesses, and caters individually to children where they need assistance.

Yatta Calhoun, a paraprofessional, recently worked two-on-one in the media center with two students who needed extra assistance in reading. Going over a story they were studying, Calhoun drilled down on the story’s fine details.

“If they are behind in reading, they are behind in everything,” Calhoun said. The individualized attention “gives them extra help getting back on track and being able to work independently so they get back to their pacing schedule.”

From language offerings beginning in kindergarten, to Chess Club, to individualized learning, to basketball, soccer and more, FLICS students exit eighth grade with advantages that few elementary and middle school children across the country can access.

“We have extremely unique offerings that no other district has,” Losié said. “That’s how we roll.”



Shi!  是

Hai!  はい

Something you didn’t know:

Todd Losié is a veteran college-preparatory, high school language teacher and former High School Teacher of the Year. He is also a national speaker on second language instruction and a contributing writer for three French-language textbook series.

Class spotlight:

Submitted by chess coaches Dennis Manrique and Marilyn Barriera


On April 5, 15 students representing the Foreign Language Immersion and Cultural Studies School (FLICS) traveled to Nashville, Tennessee to participate in the 2013 SuperNationals V at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center.

There, 5,344 students representing 1,565 schools across the country met to compete in this national interscholastic chess tournament held every five years where Primary, Elementary, Junior High School and High School students all come together to compete under one roof in the game of chess.

In only their second year as a chess team, the FLICS Checkmates went on to compete with 423 other students in the K3 Under 800 section and returned home with the claim to be one of the top 25 chess teams in their division out of 76 teams from across the nation.  This is the first national chess trophy in the history of FLICS!

The FLICS Checkmates earned the right to attend the SuperNationals V 2013 by taking first place in the Detroit Public Schools Primary Division (K-3) and third in the Elementary Division (4th-6th grade) of the Metropolitan Detroit Interscholastic Chess League.

They then went on to the Michigan Interscholastic Chess Tournament in February and placed three teams in the top 10 with eight individual medals (1 – 1stplace gold, 6 – 2nd place silver and 1 – 3rd place bronze).  Last year the Checkmates took an amazing 1st place in their first state tournament ever!

The Checkmates were represented by Ciara McCotter-Tate, 3rd grade Spanish; Bernard Williams, 3rd grade Spanish; Cameryn Sumlin, 3rd grade Chinese; Alexander Spiller, 3rd grade Spanish; Phoenix Hollier, 3rd grade Spanish; Xiomara Bennett, 3rd grade Spanish; and Naeemah Yasin-Bey, 3rd grade Spanish.

In the K5 Under 900 section, the Checkmates missed a top 30 award by only 3 games.  Representing FLICS in that section were Isaiah Manning 4thgrade Spanish; Ellington King, 4th grade French; Jalen Sumlin 4th grade Chinese; and Rashard Kemp, 5th grade Spanish.

And representing the Checkmates in the K8 Under 750 section, one of the toughest sections they played since they had to compete against Jr. High School students, were Carrington Cheatem, 5th grade Japanese; Desmond Craig, 5th grade Chinese; Jamareia May, 4th grade Spanish; and Lewynn Boyd, 4thgrade Japanese.

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