Immigrant envisions language immersion charter school
by Yustin Riopko
MATTHEWS – Dr. Louis Ngomo Okitenbo wants to start a public K-12 charter school in Matthews called Mount Tabor Academy.
Finding Charlotte-area schools overcrowded and under-resourced, school administrator and certified teacher Okitenbo is bringing together investors and a board of directors to open up a K-12 dual language immersion academy.
Okitenbo was born in Central Africa, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where he grew up speaking two of the more than 50 regional and national languages. As a young adult, Okitenbo earned his Bachelor of Philosophy at the Catholic University of Congo, then led a joint middle-high school as principal for five years. After one year teaching philosophy at a seminary college in his home country, Okitenbo moved to France, where he studied human science and systematic theology at the Strasbourg University of Social Sciences in pursuit of his doctorate, earned in 1996.
Okitenbo moved to the United States in 2000 and received a Master of School Administration from UNC Charlotte in 2006. He has lived in Matthews for 15 years, and taught around the world for almost 30.
With a native language background in Tetela and Lingala, Okitenbo has added French and English to his repertoire. He is now learning Spanish. He believes language is “like a door to a new world.”
“When you know someone’s language, you respect them,” Okitenbo said. “Because you know the language, they respect you. You know the culture, the geography – you know who they are.”
He acknowledged other local language immersion opportunities like the Mandarin/Spanish programs in Union County Public Schools and Waddell Language Academy K-8 in Charlotte, but he envisions Mount Tabor being something even more impactful for students.
If Okitenbo’s application is approved, Mount Tabor Academy will be the first K-12 dual language immersion school in the Charlotte area. The detailed plan for language immersion involves a gradual shift from 100 percent Spanish and French classes for kindergarten and first-graders to a combination of those languages and English. International travel for students would also be a school goal.
“They will see someone who was living on three different continents,” Okitenbo said. “I have a rich background of cultures. I am a very open man who would like to help Matthews’ young students to be more open, too. Mount Tabor Academy will be a place where we celebrate diversity.”
The name for Okitenbo’s charter school comes from a mountain in Israel near Nazareth, where the Transfiguration scene took place in the Bible.
“For most Christians, it is a holy mountain, where Jesus was transfigured and disciples saw Him as someone totally different,” Okitenbo explained. “I picked the name because our school will be a place where change will take place on the life of students. Education is a transformation process in which students get new information and become another person.”
Okitenbo will soon begin the application process for the charter school. He would like to see it open for the 2019-20 school year.