Charter school prepares tomorrow’s global citizens

LILA held it’s first musical “Matilda” in the brand new Lee Auditorium at the Headwaters Campus

Nearly 20 years ago, a small group of parents from the Forest Lake area wanted to create an elementary school that would contribute to the world community by offering bilingual graduates worthy of the International Baccalaureate (IB) credentials. They formed a board of directors and founded Lakes International Language Academy (LILA) as a public charter school in Forest Lake.

LILA opened its doors in 2004 when it offered kindergarten to fourth grade with an enrollment of 177 students. It continued to grow throughout the years. LILA added a preschool with a language-infused curriculum for ages 3 and 4, and when

the school decided to add grades 7-12, more space was needed.

According to Executive Director Shannon Peterson, in 2015 LILA opened the upper school, which included grades 7 and 8. Grades 9-12 followed the next school year. In 2018, the school received IB accreditation for the Middle Years Programme (grades 6-10) and, later, an IB authorization for the prestigious Diploma Programme for grades 11

and 12.

On Feb. 20, 2020, LILA held a grand opening to celebrate its new space at the upper school. The COVID-19 pandemic then forced the school to close

its doors for open learning and LILA began to implement the distance learning model for

its students.

Peterson said distance learning will not be offered at LILA for the 2021-22 school year and enrollment continues to grow.

“Since we have an increase in enrollment, we had to open up a first grade class,” Peterson said. “We had so many kids on the waiting list for kindergarten this year, so we added an additional Spanish class there, too.” Peterson said.

Today, LILA operates two campuses — the Main Campus, which houses lower school grades 1-5, features a full-size gymnasium and stage, and has a library and computer lab, both paid for with grant monies. The Kinder Center for kindergarten prep preschool and kindergarten classes is across the street. The Headwaters Campus houses upper school grades 6-12 and features flexible performance and study spaces as well as upgraded WiFi.

Full immersion begins in kindergarten for students. They experience a classroom environment for learning Spanish or Mandarin Chinese, where teachers speak to them and deliver lessons in either of those two languages all day, every day. Peterson said homework is is often provided in English and the target language because few parents speak Spanish

or Chinese.

When LILA students reach middle school, they have more than 7,000 hours of second language instruction, conversation, reading and writing.

Peterson said new students at LILA are not required to know a second language to enroll. However, all LILA students must study a second language every year.

LILA offers a variety of activities and sports for students at both campuses.

Upper school sports include swimming, dance, basketball, soccer, cross-country, baseball, softball, golf, track and field, clay targets and archery.

“We were state champs in archery this year and went to Nationals,” said Kathy Bystrom, advancement director.

“We also have a family ski club that starts in kindergarten,” Peterson added.

Activities and clubs are popular among the students, including summer camps, musical productions and Destination Imagination.

“Some of the Clubs are student-driven depending on student interests,” Bystrom noted. “We have a very robust theater arts program here as well. COVID threw a monkey wrench in some of our activities this year, but we will regroup and they'll be back.”

Bystrom said this was the first year where LILA had its first group of IB Diploma Programme (DP)  students in which 11 graduates received their IB diploma for what she describes as collegiate level coursework. 

“We had 15 IB Diploma candidates, 11 of whom were successful in earning the full IB Diploma, and we also had 14 additional students, known as DP Course candidates, who each took anywhere from 1 to 5 DP courses. All of these students engaged in the rigor of the Diploma Programme in ways that challenged them and helped them develop academically and personally, preparing them well for post-secondary education,” Sarah Ray LILA DP coordinator said. 

The curriculum is comprised of the DP core and six subject groups made up of the three required components to broaden students’ educational experience and challenge them to apply their knowledge and skills.

The three core elements are:

• Theory of knowledge, where students reflect on the nature of knowledge and on how we know what we claim to know.

• The extended essay, which is an independent, self-directed piece of research that is completed  with a

4,000-word paper.

•Creativity, activity and service, where students complete a project related to those three concepts.

The six subject groups are studies in language and literature, language acquisition, individuals and societies, sciences, mathematics and the arts.

“There's just really cool stuff happening here with them that is very unique, compared to a traditional district with that IB curriculum,” Bystrom said. “These students worked very hard and are open-minded risk-takers, which are two of the 10 attributes — and we're really proud of them.”

Bystrom also said IB graduates are highly sought after by universities, the military and the work force.

“We knew we had a really bright group here, and when I think about this during a pandemic year, it makes it a bigger deal,” she said. “They've got aspirations of going to some major college somewhere, and if you graduate with an IB diploma, it's recognized all over the world as being one of the best.”

For more information on Lakes International Academy, go to

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