The award recognises Professor St Leon’s ground-breaking vision in establishing the bilingually-focused independent Sydney school in 1984.
Professor St Leon believed that all children should have the opportunity of learning a second language from an early age, in order to reap the developmental benefits of bilingualism. He also felt that starting the study of a second language at Preschool age would make language acquisition so much easier than starting later on.
Thirty-three years later, International Grammar School (IGS) is a flourishing co-educational school with 1,250 students from Preschool–Year 12.
The School’s focus is still on providing a culturally rich and diverse education with a choice of six languages – Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese and Spanish and a strong music program based on the Orff Schulwerk method of teaching.
The journey, however, has not been all plain sailing. In the earlier days, Professor St Leon fought to keep the School going through tough bureaucratic and financial challenges. The school community rallied around and helped IGS steadily grow from less than 50 students – and through two relocations from the Eastern Suburbs to its current spot in the vibrant, creative hub of Ultimo.
Professor St Leon said that he couldn’t count the number of times people said to him: ‘You can’t do it’.
“To look at the School now and know that it has waiting lists and that it’s doing so well … it performs well academically and in examinations but also, from a much broader view of education, what the kids get out of it apart from the academic side is something you can’t put a price on,” he said.
“It’s been the most satisfying thing I’ve done in my life. Not just because I got fulfilment out of it, but because I came to understand that what I did with the School was going to have an impact on hundreds of parents and children and that therefore it was a great responsibility”.
Current IGS Principal Shauna Colnan congratulated Professor St Leon and paid tribute to him for never giving up on his vision – a vision that fits in perfectly with today’s educational landscape.
“We continue to equip our students to be world ready, to be good global citizens through their languages learning and intercultural exchange program – they are really at the forefront of globalism and they have a strong sense of social justice,” Ms Colnan said.
“We are immensely proud of our founding Principal – he is an inspiration to all of us at IGS and his recognition in today’s Queen’s Honours list is so well deserved”.