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Pasadena’s Mandarin immersion program

November 13, 2013

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From the parents at Field Elementary’s Mandarin immersion program:

In the spring of 2013 the administrators and parents involved with the The Mandarin Dual Language Immersion Program (MDLIP) at Eugene Field Elementary School received some bad news. The U.S. government Foreign Language Assistance Program (FLAP) grant that had funded the start-up costs of the program, and continued to nurture the nascent program, had been cut!  The Field program needed that FLAP grant money to help pay the bills involved with the continued growth of the program.

As many of the Mandarin Immersion Parent Council members know, it’s not inexpensive to operate an immersion program.  Field’s program shares many of the costs associated with running a traditional immersion program, however, unlike many mandarin immersion programs that follow a 50:50 (50% English, 50% Mandarin) teaching model in all grades, Field follows a 90:10 teaching model.  Under the 90:10 model students are taught in Mandarin for 90% of the class day at the kindergarten level, 80% in first grade, 70% in second grade, 60% in third grade and 50% from fourth grade through the twelfth grade.  Under the 90:10 model, Mandarin teachers are often not available to teach the English portion of the class day and therefore the program needs to find (and, of course, pay for) additional English teachers.

Fortunately, the Field program has some great things going for it, including: incredibly involved and hard working parents, teaching staff and school administrators, and a location in the San Gabriel Valley close to one of the most vibrant Chinese expatriate communities in the world.

First, let’s discuss the parents and staff. At Field during the last academic year 85% of parents volunteered in the classroom and at school-related activities during and outside of classroom instructional time last year.  When the FLAP grant was cut, these parents rolled up their sleeves and got busy raising funds.  These parents were immeasurably aided in their task by the flexible, creative (and generally just wonderful) teachers and administrators at Field.  The Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD) also provided additional funding to the Field program to help with the shortfall caused by the loss of the FLAP grant funds.

In the program’s last fiscal year, parents raised over $100,000 to help fund the costs associated with the program by organizing school fundraising drives, reaching out for donations from businesses in the local community, and through the program’s first annual Gala “A Night in Beijing” which brought in over $40,000.  Thanks to the masterful planning of the Gala planning committee and the turnout from Field parents, teachers, PUSD administrators, and other members of the local community, the gala was a phenomenal success.

Along with the large amount of money brought in, the Gala also helped to shine the spotlight on another considerable resource of the Field program, its location. The comedians at the Gala (who managed to keep the Gala crowd in stitches) found a great deal of comedy source material in the “Boba life” and other elements of the pervasive Asian food and culture within the San Gabriel Valley.

Indeed, the San Gabriel Valley is one of the most popular U.S. destinations for recent Chinese and Taiwanese immigrants.  Asians are the ethnic majority in many of the cities within the San Gabriel Valley.  The local library for the City of San Marino, a neighbor to Pasadena, devotes a significant percentage of its shelves to books written in Chinese and offers Mandarin story time for children each week. Another city in the San Gabriel Valley, Monterey Park, was once marketed to prospective immigrants from Taiwan and Hong Kong as the “Chinese Beverly Hills,” and is said to have a higher concentration of Chinese than any other city in the United States.  The immersion students at Field are fortunate to learn Mandarin in an area with such an accessible Chinese culture.

The Field program appears to have sufficiently weathered the storm that arose due to the loss of FLAP grant funding. And, going forward, the Field program appears to have a bright future because of its involved parent group, phenomenal Mandarin teachers and PUSD administrators, and an already vibrant and growing Chinese community located on its doorstep.

Eugene Field Elementary School is located in the beautiful neighborhood of Sierra Madre, in Pasadena.  Even though the program was established in 2009, just a few years ago, it is one of the oldest programs in Southern California.  Interest in the program from families in Pasadena and nearby communities is considerable; students from all over Los Angeles County, including 13 different school districts, have enrolled in the program.  The program currently has 290 students enrolled in Pre-Kindergarten through the fifth grade and PUSD has committed to fund the program, as it adds a grade each year, all the way through the twelfth grade.

If you have any questions about the Field program please feel free to visit

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Ella permalink
    August 22, 2014 1:41 pm

    well what i see is that the mandarin calsses are very small like 15-20 student Vs the regular classes are packed with 35-40 students. why do I need to sacrify my son’s education only becuase someone insits to have a dual program in place. you can come and see it with your own eyes.

    • Elizabeth Weise permalink*
      August 22, 2014 2:01 pm

      Is this in elementary school? Under California’s Class Size Reduction program, class size is capped at 20 students up until 3rd grade unless a waiver is issued. Even then, state law caps the maximum number of students at 33. So you can’t have 35-50 students in a class legally in a public school in California. If you do, you should take it up with the school board and the state department of education, the district is in violation of the law.

      • Ella permalink
        August 27, 2014 5:48 pm

        Thank you Elizabeth, I will definitely take it the State Department of Education. I called the district and nobody is giving an answer. I see that they reduced the classes somewhat but is till larger compared to the Chinese classes. Unfortunate my son doesn’t speak Chinese so he is the on suffering along with the rest of the kids that do not speak the language. I really need help and I do not now which way to go. when I called the district they gave one choice, to move my son to another school which is the one that is father for my house and it has worse scores.

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