Joanna Duong has only been in Canada for a year and a half, but says from the moment she walked into Glendale Secondary School in east Hamilton, she felt at home.
"One thing I really remember about the first day at Glendale is the language sign in front of our ESL [English as a Second Language] classroom," said Duong, now 18 and a Grade 12 student.
Duong remembers the sign reading "welcome" in Russian and Vietnamese, of which she speaks both having come from Russia and having Vietnamese parents.
"For one second, I thought I was in my home country, and the homesick feeling and the language barrier just vanished," she said.
Duong is now a "language friendly" student ambassador at the school, where more than 40 languages are spoken, according to school administration.
She's also part of a team of 18 teachers, administrators and student leaders who help promote multilingualism there. Their efforts have helped Glendale earn the designation as the first "language friendly" secondary school in North America.
The Language Friendly School network has 23 member schools around the world, including in the Netherlands, Spain and China. The first school in North America to join the network was Silver Creek Public School in Mississauga, Ont.
To mark the occasion of Glendale joining the network, the school raised a "language-friendly" flag Tuesday morning.
Marjorie Hewitt, head of ESL at the school, told CBC Hamilton they chose Feb. 21 to commemorate the designation because it's also International Mother Language Day.
"It seemed like the right time to raise the flag," she said on Friday.
"To be part of this network is an intentional choice to honour and be inclusive [of] multilingual students and their languages," she said.
'That's how you build communities': principal
David Schroeder, the school's principal, said he's excited to "build understanding and connection" through the promotion of language.
"As a principal, you always want to build community, and that's how you build communities, [by] getting all the students … to understand a little bit more about each other," he said.
Hewitt said the work to welcome multiple languages is already evident in the school's classrooms and in the curriculum.
"Some teachers are doing dual language projects, so if they have to write a poem … it's possible they would be reading a poem in English, but also in their first language and sharing it with the class and their first language," she said.
Hewitt said at the "most basic level," the label means making different languages visible in the school and making schools more language-accessible to parents.
According to Schroeder, around one-third of students at Glendale speak a second language at home.
"Glendale has always been a very diverse community," he said. "We're just intentionally stepping forward into this network to celebrate that in a more formal way."
"If you walk the halls of Glendale … you would hear the diversity, you would see it, but you would also hear it through the languages. Students are speaking their mother language proudly in the school and it's a really nice feel."