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Mandarin immersion schools in the United States, 1981 – 2022: An update

April 17, 2021

The State of Mandarin Immersion: April 2021

By Elizabeth Weise

As of April there are 331 Mandarin immersion schools in the United States, up from 324 a year ago.

That increase of just seven schools is the smallest since 2006, though it of course comes in the midst of a global pandemic which has severely interrupted education and causes many school districts to put potential new programs on hold while focusing on re-opening schools to in-person learning.

New schools to the list that either opened in the fall of 2020 or will open next fall include:

  • CE Academy, a Mandarin immersion charter school opening in the fall of 2021 in Cary, North Carolina.
  • Science Language and Arts International School, a private K – 8 school in Brooklyn, New York. It has had a French immersion strand since opening in 2011 and added a Mandarin strand in the fall of 2020.
  • Rondo Elementary School, a new public Mandarin immersion program which will open in Eastvale, California in the fall of 2021.
  • Irvine International Academy, a K – 6 charter Mandarin immersion school in Irvine, California in Orange county. The founding principal is Steven Chuang, who was previously the principal at College Park Elementary School in San Mateo. College Park is a 14-year-old and highly sought-after Mandarin immersion program in San Mateo, California. The IIA will open in August 2021.
  • New Lexington School, a Mandarin immersion program in the El Monte City School District in Los Angeles county. It is a strand in the K – 6 school and launched in 2020-2021.
  • International School of San Antonio, this K – 5 school has long had a French immersion track and is adding a Mandarin strand in the fall of 2021.
  • Oberlin Magnet Middle School in Raleigh, North Carolina. This public middle school offers the continuation of the Wake County Public School System’s Mandarin immersion program which begins in Stough Elementary School.
  • Emanuele Elementary School, a public K – 5 school in the New Haven Unified School District in Union City, California which began offering a Mandarin immersion strand in the fall of 2020.
  • Westdale Middle School in Baton Rouge, Louisiana which launched its program in the fall of 2020 as a continuation of the Mandarin immersion program at Baton Rouge Foreign Language Academic Immersion Magnet.

I fear I have missed some new middle schools that have added Mandarin immersion as their district elementary schools graduate their first classes of fith graders. It can be difficult to find the middle schools because often there’s nothing written about them on the district websites, as parents in the program automatically know where the school feeds to. If you know of one I’ve missed, please tell me.

An update on the Global Ambassadors Language Academy in Cleveland, Ohio. In the fall of 2021 it will be adding a. 6th grade class, the beginning of its middle school!  The charter school has been adding a grade level each year since it was founded with Kindergarten and 1st grade in 2016.  It will add 7th grade in 2022/23 and 8th grade in 2023/24.   

One name change is the Northwest Chinese Academy of Beaverton, Oregon, a Portland suburb. It almost closed but instead (and happily!) merged with the German International School, also in Beaverton. The school now offers a Chinese immersion strand. I’ll have an article about what happened in the coming weeks.

There have also been some schools taken off the list. East Light Academy, a Mandarin immersion charter school in Charleston, South Carolina has closed. And Centner Academy in Miami, Florida was removed because although it originally launched in the fall of 2019 as an immersion program, but instead now offers Mandarin as one of six world languages.

One fun find is Brilliant Star Montessori School on the island of Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands. A Montessori school that goes through 6th grade, it appears to offer some form of Mandarin immersion, though exactly what type isn’t entirely clear what from their website The school itself was founded in 2000. It’s certainly the only Mandarin program in this U.S. Commonwealth and is located near Guam in the Philippine Sea.

Public schools still make up the vast majority of Mandarin immersion schools, 246 out of 331 that are either open now or will open next fall. Charter schools are 33 and private 53.

In terms of percentages, that’s 74% public, 9% charter and 16% private.

Simplified characters continue to be the most popular form taught, with only 13% of schools teaching traditional. That said, some schools do introduce traditional characters later on so students can read both.

I found another Catholic school that added Mandarin immersion, Saint Michael’s Catholic Academy in Flushing, New York. It launched immersion in 2013 by I only discovered it this year. That brings the total to three: All Souls Catholic School in Los Angeles, Maryknoll School in Honolulu and Saint Michael’s in Flushing.

Overall Mandarin immersion programs generally seem to have weathered the COVID-19 storm. 2021-2022 will be an interesting year. Fewer programs seem to be opening and the long-term reasons aren’t yet clear. I’ll update again next year and we’ll see what has happened.

Hear an interview with the new principal at Honolulu’s Marynoll School, the state’s only Mandarin immersion program

April 16, 2021

From Hawai’i Public Radio

Maryknoll School in Honolulu has a new president — and she has a long history with the school. 

Shana Tong stepped up to serve as the interim head of school after the previous president, Perry Martin, departed this past summer.

Tong’s very familiar with the school — she attended Maryknoll from kindergarten through 12th grade and graduated in 1983.

She also worked as a teacher and principal at the school for 30 years, and was most recently the Vice President of Academic Affairs.

She spoke with Hawai’i Public Radio’s Jason Ubay about school operations during the COVID-19 pandemic, including an update on their Chinese immersion program.

Please read more and listen here.

Parents fight Phoenix school district attempt to cut Mandarin immersion program

April 10, 2021
Parents gather at school board meeting to keep their Mandarin immersion program open.

In March, school officials in Phoenix, Arizona notified parents at the Horseshoe Trails Elementary School Mandarin immersion program the popular program would be cut in the 2021-2022 school year.

This came as a shock to parents and they began to work tirelessly to keep the now six-year-old program going. The school district has given various, often changing, reasons for why the program was being axed.

Highly sought-after, there is a wait list and a lottery to get into the program, which was founded in 2014. Its students have consistently been among the highest-performing in the district.

More than 150 parents showed up at a school board meeting to advocate for their children’s school, which in 2020 was named an Exemplary High Performing National Blue Ribbon School, one of 367 in the nation to achieve that honor.

The district’s Spanish and French immersion programs were not cut.

After weeks of discussions, the school board has agreed to work with parents to find a better solution than simply cutting the program.

One issue raised by the district was the difficulty of finding teachers for the program. Please pass along the job posting the program’s current position to those who might be interested.

Phoenix Mandarin Immersion Teacher position

People who are interested can reach out to one of the parents leading the effort, Jennifer Cain, at jennifer.my.cain@gmail.com.

Horseshoe Trails Elementary students at the protest

Vatican to decide if Chinese American International School can move

April 5, 2021
The soon-to-be new home of the Chinese American International School in San Francisco

You don’t see a headline like that on every Mandarin immersion post, do you?

But in this case, it’s warranted.

After 40 years of wandering around San Francisco, the nation’s oldest Mandarin immersion school is finally getting a forever home — in the spacious campus of a Catholic girls’ high school in San Francisco that closed at the end of the 2020-2021 academic year.

Mercy High School was build in 1952 for the Sisters of Mercy. Its fourth floor contained the order’s convent. After years of declining enrollment, the school closed last year. Many of the remaining students joined Riordan High School, a formerly all-boys Catholic high school which went co-ed in 2020.

There has been furious speculation in San Francisco over what private school could occupy space and on Monday, CAIS head Jeff Bissell emailed the school community to tell them that after a “rigorous process, CAIS was selected from a competitive field of schools” to purchase the property.

It’s not entirely a done deal. A purchase agreement has been signed but must now be reviewed by the Vatican, as is required for property owned by the Catholic Church.

Located in southwest quadrant of San Francisco, Bissell noted that the largest current CAIS classroom could fit inside the smallest classroom at the new campus.

San Francisco’s Chinese American International School was founded in 1981. Since then it’s had three different homes, first in rental basement space at a University of California extension building near downtown and later at the Presidio, a 1,500-acre park on a former military post on the way to the Golden Gate Bridge.

Since 1997 the main school has been housed in a former telephone company office building five blocks from San Francisco’s City Hall. CAIS shares the building with the French American International School and International High School. The CAIS preschool is five blocks away.

In 2016 the middle school moved to a building seven blocks in the other direction whichonce housed the Saint Paulus Lutheran Day School and later a community clinic. In 2012 the building was taken over by 75 Occupy SF protesters for a day.

The move to the Mercy campus, which Bissell says won’t begin until Fall of 2022 at the earliest, will allow the school to consolidate all its students in one place.

CAIS currently has 480 students, but the Mercy campus has been home to as many as 1,000, so it seems very likely the school will expand with time.

Mercy High School soon after it was opened.

Getting a Seal of Biliteracy

April 4, 2021

Parents of younger children won’t have heard about this so much, but it’s a growing movement in high schools nationwide. If your child graduates high school and can demonstrate proficiency in two or more languages, they can get a Seal of Biliteracy that includes a medal (in many states) a special seal on their diploma, a note in their transcript and a leg up in college.

What’s not to like?

These seals got their start in 2008 in California as a way for high schools to recognize students who are graduating high school with proficiency in two or more languages.

The idea was two-fold: to recognize students who had studied hard and really mastered a second language, and to acknowledge the work students coming from bilingual homes had to do to stay fluent in their home language and learn English.

As with many things when it comes to bilingualism, it’s a win-win situation.

Every year the United States government spends millions of dollars to teach people in the military, diplomats and other vital languages. Businesses spend millions looking for staff who speak useful languages. And students spend tens of thousands of dollars in college trying to learn languages.

And at the same time, far too many students who come from bilingual families spend their entire K – 12 school career learning English and forgetting critically useful languages like Russian, Chinese, Spanish, Korean, Vietnamese, Arabic and others.

The Seal of Biliteracy is a way for a state or school district to:

  • Honor students who have gained proficiency in two or more languages
  • Signal on their diploma and in their transcript that they have this proficiency
  • Encourage students to learn or keep alive languages they already know

You can ask your high school or school district if they offer this program, or check out the national website to find out more here.

The requirements differ a little state from state, but generally during high school students must:

  • Complete all English requirements with a grade of 2.0 or above.
  • Pass the state high school graduation test, if there is one

And in addition, demonstrate their proficiency in the foreign language by one of these:

  • Pass an AP exam in the foreign language with a score of 3 of higher
  • Complete four years of a foreign languages with a score of 3.0 or higher
  • Pass an International Baccalaureate exam in the language with a score of four or higher
  • Pass the SAT II foreign language exam with a score of 600 or higher.

The seal is usually affixed to the student’s diploma and appears on their transcript.

Colleges take note of this and it’s something the student can discuss in their college applications and also point out to employers.

Sky Kids Mandarin camps starting up again for the summer

March 26, 2021

Sky Kids will have Mandarin immersion summer camps in San Francisco this summer and it’s looking like Taiwan as well, though that remains to be seen. Note that both are day camps so you’ve got to be in the area or have friends your child can stay with.

Sky Kids Summer 2021 Camp Update

From the director:

After the 2020 pause and this year’s improving Covid situation, we think it will be a good time to run our in-person Mandarin camps in Summer 2021. The period will be July 19-August 13, which is 4 weeks of camps with 4 different Maker & Art themes. Unfortunately, due to space and manpower limitations, we will be launching morning half-days first. Should we be able to offer afternoons as well, we will update you accordingly.


Please check online for details regarding the program:  www.sky-kids.org/mandarin-camps-summer-2021

We will also be continuing our Online Mandarin classes in the earlier part of the summer: June 7-July 16 or if you prefer hosting an at-home mini-camp for a small group of students (e.g. 4-6) we can provide teachers & materials for this time period as well.

Teaching our children about anti-Asian racism and Chinese history

March 20, 2021

It’s with a heavy heart that I write this. The murders in Atlanta are fresh in everyone’s minds and this weekend there will be Asian solidarity marches and celebrations across the country.

For those of us with children in Chinese immersion programs, this is hitting especially hard. Many of our families are Asian themselves, others have spent years immersing themselves in Chinese and Chinese-American culture as our children learn Chinese in school.

I think the first thing we can do is check in with people and ask how they’re doing. This week I’ve heard stories of people being spit upon, screamed at from cars, followed on the sidewalk while being yelled at and verbally assaulted simply for being Asian in America.

Despicable words about Chinese people were spray painted on the walls of my children’s middle school.

One mom was out shopping and picked something up then put it down. Another woman yelled out “Where’s the hand sanitizer? I’m not going to touch that, that *** just touched it.” With her children standing right next to her.

For those of us who are white, hearing these stories and realizing what our Asian friends deal with that is invisible to us is important. We can become allies and stand against such hatred. Though we must remember that it’s not our friends’ job to educate us about what’s happening, it is our own.

One thing I’ve long been saddened by is the lack of teaching in Mandarin immersion schools about this history of Asians in the United States and especially the history of Chinese Americans. Our kids read books about the Spring Festival and red envelopes, but don’t learn about the Chinese Exclusion Act or the shameful history of anti-Chinese mob attacks and murders on the West Coast.

In my hometown of Seattle, rioters attacked, killed and forced hundreds of Chinese workers to leave town in 1886, something I didn’t even learn about when I studied Chinese at the University of Washington.

So this spring, instead of only having your kids read books about Chinese culture, perhaps add in a few about American Chinese culture and history.

Here are a couple of good places to start:

Top 10 Chinese American Children’s Books (ages 2 – 14)

Best Children’s Books about Chinese American History

Asian American Children’s Books

And for anyone looking for a project: There’s a real need for a book for middle or high school students about the history of the Chinese Exclusion Act and what it did to the Chinese American community. There are a few good adult books on this, including At America’s Gates: Chinese Immigration during the Exclusion Era, 1882-1943, but they’re too academic for kids.

The Act, passed in 1882, barred almost all Chinese from the United States for ten years. It was the first federal law that banned a group of people solely on the basis of race or nationality set a precedent for future restrictions against Asian immigrants and others.

Forty-two years later the 1924 Immigration Act excluded all classes of Chinese immigrants. It wasn’t until Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 that these racist quota systems were abolished.