Glocalization – when students attend an international school at home

Posted on 27th Aug 2019 in School News, United States, International Schools, International Education

Michael Maniska, Head of School at the International School of Los Angeles, on the impact of an emerging trend in enrolment...

Typically, when people consider international schools, they can default to thinking about schools that serve Anglophone students who are away from their home country. In general, such schools are characterized by expatriate communities and predominantly English-language instruction. But there are different types of international schools; ones that go beyond servicing the needs of an expatriate enclave seeking portability of educational experience across different settings and countries.

Increasingly, international schools can find themselves welcoming students who are ‘at home’ just as much (if not more so) than students who are not. The International School of Los Angeles is one such school. Our school is 40 years old this year, and we are proud of how far we have come, from a modest initial enrolment of 7 students to 1,100 today. As we reflect on this milestone, so too have we observed that, especially in the last 10 years, the face of our student and parent bodies has been changing. In turn, we have needed to effect changes which reflect the current and emerging needs of our students.

Like many international schools nowadays, we are engaging in ‘glocalization,’ the art of bringing the world to a place that is home for many of our students. Whereas our school was once upon a time more of an incubator for short-term expatriate students seeking continuity of educational experience, the same cannot be said today. Approximately half our students are US nationals, albeit with many holding dual nationality. Not surprisingly, many of our students are Third Culture Kids, being raised in a country and by parents who are not locals. Yet at the same time, while recognizing our place in educating students multilingually and multiculturally, the bottom line is that over 90% of our graduating seniors today attend US/Canadian universities.

What has glocalization meant for the International School of Los Angeles? What levers have been at our disposal to effect the kind of change needed to respond to the future needs of our students?

Recognizing an evolving identity

Third Culture Kids share many common attributes beyond growing up in a country that is not where their parents were raised. These students are invariably able to speak at least two languages (frequently without accent), have nuanced intercultural capacity, enhanced empathy, and navigate the world as unashamed hybrids.

In recognizing this reality, we added an English version to the name of our school, which, until 2015, had only a French designation. We were a bilingual institution struggling to express our identity monolingually. But that has changed. Having an English name immediately opened the doors for us to be better understood by US institutions, especially universities. It has also enabled us to welcome more local families who previously felt they could not access our school because they were not French.

Tweaking our curriculum

Our school offers a rigorous blended bilingual curriculum in English and French. All students study a common program until 8th grade, after which time they elect one of two discrete tracks: the French baccalauréat or the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme. We have done a lot of work to develop both programs, which has included:

  • Strengthening our elementary English program, an initiative that immediately spoke to all our constituents who were federated by the reality that our students are in the US and likely to seek college admission in North America.
  • Internationalizing our French curriculum by implementing the section internationale américaine (SIA) from 1st-12th grade. This program sits within the framework of the French Ministry of Education’s offering and recognizes that students in our schools are both bilingual and bicultural. One distinctive feature of this offering is that all English courses are taught as English literature rather than as ESL classes. American universities therefore recognize the English literature program studied in the SIA, obviating the need for both AP English and IELTS testing.
  • Realigning our entry points to reflect the US educational model, thereby enabling us to offer our international track for the high school years beginning in 9th grade, leading to the IB Diploma Programme. The 9th grade entry point services our ‘homegrown’ and new students alike. There is a real appetite for a school like ours in the LA area, with our outward-looking philosophy and emphasis on bilingualism, and we look forward to the opportunity to welcome new families by way of this additional entry point.

Our students get the best of both worlds, and the wider world

We draw on pedagogical and well-being practices from both the Francophone and the Anglophone worlds. Our students sometimes joke about what makes our French faculty French and what makes our American faculty American, observing the idiosyncrasies, strengths, and weaknesses of both. Naturally, we have field trips to France but our global field trips go well beyond to destinations such as Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Taiwan.

In living out the best of both worlds, our students are equally developing the all-critical 21st century soft skills: communication, citizenship, creativity, critical thinking and problem-solving, collaboration, and character. These skills complement well our academically rigorous, challenging bilingual program and are a vital piece in nurturing open-minded and well-rounded individuals who will thrive both locally and globally.

Setting students up for glocal success

Our globally-minded students are enhanced glocal citizens. Our programs prepare them for that space. We have seen from our college entry profiles (with many of our students in recent years accessing Top 100 Global Universities in North America) the value-added proposition of an education such as the one we offer at the International School of Los Angeles. As our students aim for local schools, their global educational trajectory is making them more attractive on the local market.

Many political indicators have suggested in recent years that there is a reversion to local (sometimes seen as parochial) behaviors; some see it is a backlash against globalization. What a great place to be, therefore, when you are a student who can embody and extoll the virtues of glocalization!

This article first appeared in the 2019/20 edition of John Catt's Guide to International Schools. You can read the digital version of the guidebook here: