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Hoboken, New Jersey international school adding Mandarin track

March 25, 2020

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From Patch, Nov. 1, 2019

HOBOKEN, NJ — An international school in Hoboken where 80 percent of the daily lessons are taught in a foreign language recently gave a big shout-out to diversity, peace and justice at an on-campus event.

On Oct. 24, Tessa International School celebrated United Nations Day, which acknowledges the U.N. charter initially signed by 50 countries in October 1945.

Each year, Tessa School celebrates with student performances in Spanish and French and other activities related to various countries of the world. Students and teachers dress in traditional clothes, representing more than 20 countries. This year’s event also included a performance of Irish folk music and international music by Shan and Dan.

Please read more here.

“The Intrusion of White Families Into Bilingual Schools?”

March 17, 2020


Argh. Yet another headline that misses the distinction between dual-language immersion and bilingual programs. Thankfully the article itself is much more nuanced than the headline [And note that it’s from 2017, but it seems to suddenly have popped back up in Facebook so I’m seeing discussion of it on several immersion lists.]

Bilingual programs are created to teach English Langauge Learner students English, while maintaining and supporting the students’ home language, usually Spanish in most districts, though sometimes Mandarin. Students who are already fluent in English do not attend bilingual programs as a rule.

Dual-language immersion programs are meant to teach two groups of students (hence the “dual” in “dual language.) One group are native speakers of the “target language” (say Mandarin or Spanish) while the other group doesn’t speak that language. They’re usually native English speakers.

In dual-language immersion programs, both groups of students learn both languages.

Ideally, half the students speak the target language and half the students speak English, so they learn from each other and reinforce the languages in each other.

In a one-way immersion program, all the students come in speaking English and together they learn a new language. This is how French immersion works in Canada, for example. As I wrote about extensively in my book, A Parent’s Guide to Mandarin Immersion, this is often the method used in Mandarin immersion programs, in part because most communities don’t have enough Mandarin-speaking kids to make up half the class.

For those that do,  many districts reserve spaces for each cohort. In San Francisco, the district tries to have one-third native Mandarin speakers, one-third bilingual (kids who speak both Mandarin and English) and one-third English speakers.

Overall the article below is good, so perhaps the title’s just meant to be click-bait. And it’s talking about Spanish immersion for the most part. It’s pretty tough to find a district in the United States where there aren’t at least some native Spanish speaking students, so for Spanish it can happen that English-speaking students might take seats that could have gone to Spanish-speaking students.

But that’s a problem the district should be able to deal with rather than letting balanced classrooms, which are ideal, skew towards English-speakers. If there are enough students from both language groups applying, balanced classroom are not hard to create. And again, it’s almost never an issue in Mandarin immersion.

Districts that don’t have enough students to create a balanced dual-immersion classroom have to consider the makeup they want and what they’re trying to accomplish. If a district doesn’t have many target language-speaking students, what is its goal for an immersion school? That’s a valid question. If the school isn’t aiding English Language Learners, does it do other things the district wants, such as keeping families in the district or attracting families who might have moved or gone to private schools?

Gentrification does change neighborhoods and cities. But it’s up to school districts to decide what their goals are and work for them through placement. As the writer points out, the easiest way around the problem is to simply create more dual-language immersion schools. Not artificially limit access to popular programs, which all too often is what I see being suggested.

The Atlantic, Dec. 28, 2017

The Intrusion of White Families Into Bilingual Schools

An update on the San Francisco MI Program

March 11, 2020
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Students from the Starr King Elementary school Mandarin immersion program tour Aptos Middle School in 2011. This was the inaugural class of Mandarin immersion in the San Francisco Unified School District.

I wrote previously this school year about the San Francisco Unified School District’s decision to end true immersion past 5th grade by no longer offering content courses taught in Mandarin (or Spanish or Cantonese) in middle school.

But there’s good news in that at least for this year and next year, SFUSD will continue to offer two classes in Mandarin in 6th grade at Aptos Middle School: Mandarin language arts and a second class, social studies, taught in Mandarin.

Seventh- and eighth-grade students no longer get anything beyond Mandarin language arts, but for at least through 2021, 6th graders will get one final year of an actual subject taught in Mandarin.

Parents who’ve asked SFUSD why got the answer that there wasn’t money to implement the District’s planned Middle School Redesign Initiative for Aptos, so the district left things as they were.

What can parents take away from this? Here are a few lessons from San Francisco:

  • When your district tells you how your MI Program will work through high school, get it in writing. At least that way if they try to  shift to something different later on, you can pull out the actual promise.
  • Ask early and often (if your program is still in grade school) how articulation will work in middle school and high school. (Articulation is education-speak for how educational systems are linked. For example, how grade school classes and skills link to middle school or how high school classes link to college.)
  • Begin working with your district early in grade school to ensure that a middle school (and later high school) program is mapped out. School district funding cycles often mean that no one starts thinking about the next academic year until late the year before. But creating a Mandarin immersion middle school program requires more time than that, so someone needs to start working on it by 4th or even 3rd grade.
  • Make sure you have buy-in from the administration at the middle school where your program will land. Think in terms of what the program will do for the school and how it will make the principal’s job easier. Middle schools are usually big, complex systems and the last thing the principal wants or needs is a new headache.  Scheduling two immersion classes a day, for example, can be difficult in an existing schedule — especially in schools that try to keep 6th graders in their own cohort.
  • Remember that in grade school your program is big and important to your school’s staff and principal. In middle school and high school, you’ll be a tiny proportion of the students. Your program’s needs matter less. Be prepared for the shift.

You can read my original article about the SFUSD change here.

Time to start fundraising to send your teachers to the National Chinese Language Conference

March 5, 2020

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This is the big one, where new data and ideas about Mandarin immersion programs are presented and discussed. The field has really matured and we know a great deal more than we did when my kids’ school first started its program  back in the Dark Ages (i.e.  2006.) It’s really one of the main go-to conferences for the field. Anyone who’s looking to start a school, or currently working in a program, would find it useful.

I’ve gone as a parent and learned a great deal too, but as you know I’m a little geeky on the whole language immersion topic. In general, it’s for educators.

More info on the conference and registration here.


A question for readers – What kind of posts do you want to see?

February 28, 2020

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Hello to all of you who follow this blog.

It’s generally directed at parents but I realize that a fair number of teachers and administrators follow it as well.

I have a question for you. Is it useful for me to post information for teacher/administrator workshops? They’re not meant for parents, but as a parent myself I sometimes found that I was passing along information about opportunities to our teachers which they themselves had not heard about.

On the blog, I don’t know how many teachers and administrators are actually reading, so not sure whether it’s helpful.

This comes up because I got information about the workshop below today and was going to post it, then realized it was 1) only useful to teachers who have a significant number of heritage speakers of Chinese in their classes and 2) only to teachers, not parents.

I was going to skip it but then thought I’d ask. Please use the comment space below to tell me. I strive to make this blog topical and useful for the entire Mandarin immersion community, though with a focus on parents and schools.



Sign up for the conference below here.

More information about the conference here.

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National immersion expert speaking in San Francisco March 5th

February 23, 2020

Dr. Tara Fortune is one of the top experts in immersion and will be speaking in San Francisco on March 5th. You need to RSVP by March 4 so they know how many people are coming.


Tara Williams Fortune is an immersion teaching specialist and director of the Immersion Research and Professional Development Program at the Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA) at the University of Minnesota. She devotes most of her professional time to the preparation and continuing education of language immersion educators throughout the U.S. Her publications include two co-edited volumes on immersion research, Pathways to Multilingualism: Evolving Perspectives on Immersion Education (2008, Multilingual Matters Ltd.) and Immersion Education: Practices, Policies and Possibilities (2011, Multilingual Matters Ltd.), and Struggling Learners & Language Immersion Education (2010, University of Minnesota). Fortune’s current research interests include immersion students’ oral language proficiency development and the struggling immersion learner. She also serves as a member of the editorial board for the new Journal of Immersion and Content-based Language Education (JICB), John Benjamins Publishing.

Idaho administrators visit China to support immersion program

February 15, 2020

From The Jefferson Star

Nov. 27, 2019

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Two Jefferson School District No. 251 administrators took a trip to China in October with the hope to build connections with other schools and improve the district’s Chinese immersion program.

Chad Martin, superintendent, and Kevin Cowley, world language immersion program coordinator, were the only two Idaho delegates on the Chinese Bridge Delegation.

More than 100 administrators, school leaders and decision-makers attended the 10-day program, which is organized and paid for by the College Board and Confucius Institute. Cowley said he and Martin were in a smaller group composed of administrators from Ohio, Texas and Utah. During the program, they visited local schools and met with educators, administrators and students.

Please read more here.