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2009: Principals of the Year

Going Global in Brooklyn
Leading city’s only French-Spanish language immersion school

For the past six years, Rebecca Skinner has been living the phrase, “Think globally, act locally.” As the principal and guiding force behind the International School of Brooklyn, she helms the only French and Spanish language immersion school in New York.

Offering both Spanish and French programs, the independent language immersion school, based in Prospect Heights, is known for its small classes and diverse staff. The 106 preschool and primary grade students represent 28 different countries.

Skinner co-founded the school in 2003 with Dr. Habiba Boumlik. After Boumlik’s family moved away from New York in 2004, Skinner tenaciously pursued their vision while raising her then 2-month-old twins, Annabelle and Oliver. In September 2005, the preschool program welcomed its inaugural class with 10 families and 16 students. The school is already chartered by the New York State Department of Education, and Skinner is pursuing accreditation from the European Council of International Schools and other key educational organizations.

Hands-on learning is a big component of the school. This fall, the community service club coordinated a Darfur fundraiser. A group hiked to Prospect Park to fill large plastic jugs with water, a 45-minute trip that was meant to show how youngsters in Darfur must often travel seven hours for household water. The school raised $1,200 in one of its most successful global projects.

“In everything we do, we are always thinking how can we imprint [concepts] in our children’s brains so that they can move forward,” Skinner said. “We know that the content [of education] changes over time. And I always give the example: When I started at the school Pluto was a planet, and now it’s not a planet. So I can not tell you in 20 years what my children will need to know.”

Teresa Vascos, whose son Luke has participated in the school’s Spanish program since its inception, said she has been a long-time devotee of Skinner’s approach to bilingual education. Vascos’ husband was born in Cuba, and though they both are American citizens, she wants her son to learn Spanish language and culture in a school setting.

“Rebecca had quite a bit of stamina in the beginning years, which were very challenging,” Vascos said. “Her commitment to the International Baccalaureate Program really cemented why language immersion worked and how it is beneficial to the kids.”

The International School of Brooklyn has grown from an awe-inspiring idea to a school with solid walls and substance. Already, plans are underway to relocate the growing school to a Catholic school building in Carroll Gardens.

Skinner, who resides in Prospect Lefferts Garden with her husband and 6-year-old twins, sees the current school year as a particularly meaningful one. She has been adding a grade each year, with the hopes of one day offering a pre-K to 12th grade program. Another area of growth has been grant development and scholarships for students, which enable this non-profit institution to move forward in challenging economic times.

Parent Tim Gregory, whose two daughters attend the school, said he feels lucky to be involved with the school from the beginning.

“I consider it my greatest piece of luck that I stumbled on her and her school in its formative year,” he said. “I find joy in watching her, along with the school, grow in stature, confidence and ability.”

— Deirdre Donovan

Rebecca Skinner, Co-founder and Executive Director
International School of Brooklyn
237 Park Place
Brooklyn, N.Y. 11238


Above: After two years of planning, Principal Rebecca Skinner welcomed the International School of Brooklyn’s inaugural class in September 2005.



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