ISLA, a K-6 Spanish immersion school in Minnetonka, is moving to a new location in Edina. The spot will double the school’s space, allowing ISLA to expand its programming. (Photo courtesy ISLA)

ISLA, a Spanish-immersion school that serves students in kindergarten through grade six, is moving from Minnetonka to Edina.

Officially known as the International Spanish Language Academy, ISLA will start its 2021-22 school year in Edina. The school, which was able to open up enrollment to its biggest number of potential students for this upcoming school year, will see more than double the amount of space at its new building at East Bush Lake Road and West 78th Street.

“Immersion education works,” Jeremy Perrin, executive director of ISLA. “And I think the secret is out.”

ISLA, which is also an International Baccalaureate world school, works to expose young learners to Spanish in order to learn the language while at the same time learning basic education. In their first two years of school, the students learn entirely in Spanish until second grade, where they then start learning formal English instruction, Perrin said.

“(They) get immersed in the language from day one,” he said. “You learn all of the subjects that you would normally learn but you learn them in Spanish.”

Perrin said language immersion education is also advantageous for youth. In addition to being beneficial in the later job market through becoming bilingual, students also learn in a problem-solving fashion that makes their brains more agile, he said.

As a public charter school, ISLA accepts students by open enrollment. Currently, the school has kids from generally 14 different districts, Perrin noted.

In enrollment for the upcoming school year, the school is almost entirely full. The school must use a lottery system, which means that all those who want to attend could not, Perrin said. Since the lottery was completed, the school was able to open a couple more sections, one in kindergarten and one in first grade, and is still accepting applications on ISLA’s website.

Already, ISLA was somewhat “splitting at the seams” in terms of its programming, Perrin said. Their current 30,000-square-foot building will more than double to 70,400 square feet at the Edina spot, which is located at 5350 W. 78th St.

In addition to the need for more space, a big driver to move included buyer demand for the school’s Minnetonka land, located at 5959 Shady Oak Road. After approval was given to the under-construction Green Line light rail extension, which will include a station near the current ISLA property, purchase offers for the land began pouring in, Perrin said.

Doran Companies has proposed to develop the Minnetonka property into more than 350 units of multi-family housing.

The Edina location, which Perrin calls a “diamond in the rough” among the other options the school had, was bought by ISLA for $6.4 million.

New plans for the Edina space

Perrin said the school will be building a gym on the back of the building, which will be a major construction project on the site. This will include bleachers at some point in the future, he said.

The school will also be expanding its maker-space program, which is for building- and design-based learning, in addition to its specialist programs for computer science and STEM.

A media center is planned for the middle of the building to serve as a learning hub, Perrin said. The music program will also have much more space, including its own practice room and orchestra section. The school is planning to add a video room where kids can show off their Spanish skills while making content like news broadcasts, Perrin added.

Outside, the school space, he said. The building, which will consist of two floors, has a section of its second floor held up by pillars with space for people to walk underneath. Perrin said the school is looking to do something creative with that space, and that it will also allow recess to continue outdoors in the case of rain.

Classrooms will be larger and have 50-70% more natural light, which will benefit a social climate in the schools, Perrin said.

COVID-19 impact

Perrin said COVID-19 has been a big challenge, especially in trying to maintain the social and emotional wellbeing of students. Throughout the pandemic, he said, the school has had to learn how to pivot.

ISLA now has allowed all of its students back for in-person learning since Feb. 22, with some students choosing to learn from home. After going to distance learning during COVID-19 case increases around Thanksgiving, the school transitioned its students back by grade levels when returning from break.

“I feel so fortunate for our community and how we took this on,” Perrin said. “(And we’re coming) out the other side now.”

But not everything yet is back to normal. In following COVID-19 mitigation protocols, the school has had to properly distance its student population. “The whole thing is like one big math problem,” Perrin said. “It’s this big Jenga puzzle.”

Most of the school’s teachers have received the COVID-19 vaccine, and all have been offered one, Perrin noted. He said he appreciates the work of Minnesota health officials for caring about essential workers like teachers and staff.

The school also recently gained Minnesota Department of Education approval for a new instructional pre-K program, called “El Nido de ISLA,” or “The Nest of ISLA,” which is meant to expose even younger kids to the Spanish language, Perrin said.

– Follow Caitlin Anderson on Twitter @EdinaSunCurrent

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