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New school for international studies

They study El Mio Cid, Spain's oldest epic poem, in Spanish. They analyze mystery literature written by Frenchman Georges Simenon in Italian. They learn Algebra II, geometry and statistics in French.

They are International Studies high school students, following a demanding bilingual program that gives them the same education as their peers in Spain, France, Germany and Italy.

And now they have a new public high school - the International Studies Preparatory Academy @ Gables, or ISPA, the first magnet school in Miami-Dade to offer only International Studies in a high school setting.


Visit International Studies Preparatory Academy @ Gables' website.

Visit International Studies Charter High School website.

Read more about Miami-Dade County Public Magnet Schools here.

A venture between the Miami-Dade Schools and the consulates of Spain, France and Italy, the high school completes the International Studies trajectory for the nearly 3,000 students on that course. They will be able to go from first to 12th grade and take courses in history, foreign languages and some math and science classes in Spanish, French, Italian or German.

"I think the program is pretty great," said Robert Zoeller, 10, a fifth-grader at Ada Merritt K-8 Center, who has been taking the Spanish curriculum for the past four years. "We get to learn social studies in Spanish. Not a lot of kids get to experience this much."

Some say taking classes in a bilingual setting gives students an academic lift.

"A lot of research indicates that knowing more than one language early on promotes the development of thinking skills," said Joanne Urrutia, administrative director of Miami-Dade County Public School's Division of Bilingual Education and World Languages.

The International Studies program has grown since it started in 1986 at Sunset Elementary. Today, more than 2,900 Miami-Dade students are enrolled from grades 1-12.

Students take the same core subjects as Europeans - grammar, literature, history, humanities and civics - in one of the languages they're mastering. They learn math, science and English in English, except for the students being taught in French, who are required to take math and science courses in French.

ISPA is the next step in the International Studies program, which starts in first grade at five schools: Sunset Elementary School (Spanish, French, German); George W. Carver Elementary School (Italian); North Dade Center for Modern Languages (Spanish, French); Coral Way K-8 Center (Spanish); and Ada Merritt K-8 Center (Spanish).

From there, students attend one of four middle schools -- George W. Carver Middle School (Spanish, French, German and Italian); Jorge Mas Canosa Middle School (Spanish); Coral Way K-8 Center (Spanish) and Ada Merritt K-8 Center (Spanish).

Coral Reef Senior High has been offering the German curriculum since the 1990s. The International Studies Charter High School in Little Havana, founded in 2004, teaches Spanish, French and Italian.

The International Studies Preparatory Academy @ Gables, which opened Aug. 23 in the Koubek Center off Coral Way, has 12 freshmen taking courses in French and Spanish. Next year, the school will begin Italian.

Principal Alejandro Perez said he has spots for 75 to 100 students this fall and will accept magnet applications for the next six weeks.

"The benefits of becoming truly bilingual and bicultural will help later in life," he said. "Businesses are looking at students who can read and write in a second language."

Typically, these type of programs are found at international or private schools -- not public schools.

ISPA is recruiting students. Enrollment is low because the school district launched the school a month before classes started, said Anna Piva, executive director of ODLI, which coordinates International Studies in Italian.

"Many families had already decided where to send their children for the coming year," she said.

When the school moves next year to 1570 Madruga Ave. in Coral Gables, the building will accomodate 600 students.

"It gives me a lot more public choices than what I have now," said Andrea Leal, an Argentine, whose son studies the Spanish curriculum at Carver Middle School.

To be sure, the International Studies program is not for everyone.

"It's a lot more work," said Pavel Raphael, 17, a senior at the International Studies Charter High School. "The curriculum is harder. There re no multiple choice tests, just long response questions."

But the rewards -- academic prestige, college credit, a possible free European education and better jobs -- are powerful incentives.

If students complete the International Studies program in the 12th grade and they pass national language tests, they are eligible for a dual high school diploma, depending on the country.

Those who pass entrance exams for college -- such as the French Baccalauréat or the Spanish Selectividad -- can attend a university in that country.

Attending a university in France is free. In Spain and Germany, college tuition is much less expensive than in American universities, consular officials say.