The Dowona Initiative




Dɔwɔna is an Ewe word that can mean project, occupation, labor or activity, depending on the context in which it's used. The Ewe language is spoken in the West African countries of Ghana, Togo and Benin. Immigrant families from all over the world regularly attend education council meetings asking why their children cannot maintain their heritage language when getting an education in New York City public schools.

The Dowona Initiative is focused on creating an intentionally inclusive, international language and multicultural middle and high school in New York City's School District 3.


The Dowona Initiative is driven by a diverse group of parents in New York City, mostly immigrants, who speak different languages at home and who want to continue to support multilingual education and strengthen educational opportunities for New York’s children within the New York City public school system.

Along with Lafayette Academy Principal, Brian Zager, we are seeking space and approval to expand Lafayette Academy from a French-English dual language middle school to a Grades 6-12 International Baccalaureate school with immersive dual language Spanish, French, Russian and Italian programs and an English track with many other foreign language enrichment options in a multicultural, diverse and academically rigorous school environment.

 Program Benefits

☑ Meets Chancellor Banks’s call for high performing, rigorous public schools with acceptance not based solely on the SHSAT entrance exam.

☑ Diverse, academically rigorous, equitable public school that will continue to foster an engaging and nurturing environment and develop multilingual students who are citizens of their culture and community and who will be life-long learners who seek to continue to better their community.

☑ Continuity of existing elementary dual language programs from early childhood education through high school, supporting hundreds of multilingual families with like minded priorities.

☑ Internationally recognized International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum.

☑ Ties together IB and multilingual education to help students become citizens of the world by developing important skills including cultural- and civic-mindedness, empathy for all citizens of the world, and who seek to better their community and have an endless curiosity for life.

☑ Creating opportunities for recent non-English language immigrants in grades 6 through 12.

Launch Checklist

☑ Highly motivated and enthusiastic parent led coalition.

☑ No Limits Learning New York Incorporated 501(c)(3) established for fundraising and organizing the startup of the school, including the International Baccalaureate (IB) application process.

☑ Support from hundreds of diverse NYC families who have a non-English home language with pledges to enroll at the proposed school. 

☑ A visionary principal, Brian Zager of Lafayette Academy, who actively engaged with a multicultural student body, who has 20+ years of experience and who will lead the new, expanded International Academy for all students.

☐ Support of NYC DOE with budget allocation for first 5 years with school launch in Fall 2023

☐ DOE commitment of space to accommodate 1,000 students and staff from grade 6 through 12 at the end of the initial expansion period.

Initiative Committee

Anna Azvolinsky has lived in New York City for over 12 years and is a public school parent of two elementary-school age children. She was educated in Philadelphia public schools, received a BA in biology from the University of Pennsylvania and a PhD in molecular biology from Princeton University. She is an independent health and science journalist and a life sciences consultant.

Anna strongly believes in grass-roots initiatives to better public schools and communities. In March 2020, she helped found, a 100% volunteer-based 501(c)(3) that gave 100% of funds raised to pay family-owned, local NYC restaurants to deliver hot, healthy meals to NYC’s frontline works in hospitals who were directly caring for COVID-19 patients and has delivered over 50,000 meals.

Anna is fluent in Russian. She believes that parents and community members need to work together and invest in public schools for the benefit of all children,and that multilingual programs through high school are a great way to develop civically and community-minded humans that care about bettering their community and the greater world. She also loves to come into classrooms to do hands-on biology experiments with students.

Ksusha McCormick is a longtime Manhattan resident and public school parent. After being educated in public schools, she earned a BA at Columbia College and an MBA at the Wharton School and currently serves as Co-Founder and CEO of Decameron Technologies.

For the past two years, she has served as Co-VP of Fundraising at PS145M, helping to raise money for initiatives that benefit the school's Russian, Spanish, and monolingual English programs.

Ksusha is fluent in Russian and proficient in French, and believes passionately in the cognitive and cultural importance of multilingual education for children.

Naveed Hasan's family immigrated to New York City in the early 1980s where he attended Brooklyn public schools in District 21 (PS 99K, IS 239K, HS 525K). This foundation set the stage for an education at Columbia University’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, where he graduated with distinction with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science and Macroeconomics and a Master of Science in Artificial Intelligence & Computer Vision.

Naveed is an independent consultant and entrepreneur and currently serves on the Panel for Educational Policy as the Manhattan CEC presidents’ representative. Previously, he was elected twice to serve on Community Education Council District 3, most recently as its treasurer and chair of its Multilingual Committee. He also continue to serve as chair of PS 145M The Bloomingdale School’s Title I Parent Advisory Council, where he works to improve public education for all students by addressing socioeconomic issues impacting them, such as housing, after school, tutoring, immigration & refugee status, linguistically responsive mental health & academic intervention services and caretaker employment & child care.

Naveed's first language is Urdu, followed by English learned in NYC Public Schools and a good working knowledge of Russian. He is a steadfast advocate of multilingual fluency, with learning starting as early as possible in a child's upbringing and continuing throughout their educational life. This has helped him personally develop and flourish in an increasingly globalized world and he feels it is his responsibility to pay it forward to the current generation of students by strongly supporting existing work in school language programs and helping the system provide multilingual literacy for all.

It is Naveed's core belief that education is a public & common good and community systems that work best are shared in their use, governance & sense of ownership by a broad cross section of society.

Italian born Stefania Puxeddu has lived, studied and worked in three English speaking countries. After receiving an MBA in English language and literature in Italy and a NYU certification in translation studies, she worked in the UK as a bilingual translating editor for a “certain” business pink newspaper. She also obtained a MSci in Food Policy at City, University of London. She studied ancient Latin, English literature and writing, Spanish and German at university and works as an independent bilingual educator and translator, and an external teacher of Italian.

Stefania has supported several school initiatives such as wellness at school, reading, and multilingual education by serving as librarian, SLT member and fundraiser at her son Matteo’s elementary school P.S. 163 and now at middle school M.S. 256 Lafayette Academy in district 3. She is one of the founders of InItaliano - Bilinguismo a New York ( and one of the Italian translators for CALEC.

Yaw Debrah

Yaw Debrah has lived in New York City for over 28 years and is a public-school parent of two high school and one elementary-school age children. Yaw received a Bachelors degree in Engineering from Oxford University in England and by a Masters in Business Administration from the Yale School of Organization and Management.

Yaw is originally from Ghana with his father from the Ashanti tribe and his mother from the Fante tribe.  Being the child of diplomats, Yaw strongly believes in the Dowona Initiative’s model to help students become citizens of the world by developing important skills including cultural and civil mindedness, empathy for all citizens of the world and who are seeking to better their community.