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New Mandarin immersion near San Francisco enrolls 3 Kindergarten classes

November 30, 2017

The West County Mandarin School in Richmond, Calif. is an interesting case. The West Contra Costa Unified School District (north of Berkeley) started the program in part to forestall a charter school being created. Parents in the district, and nearby, had asked for a Mandarin immersion program but the districts hadn’t wanted to do one. Then a group started working on creating a charter (I’m not clear on how far that effort actually got but it was certainly being discussed) and that was enough to push the District to create a new, whole-school program.

The other issue is that Richmond is a city that’s historically been relatively low income due to many historic factors and no small degree of racism. With the enormous rise in tech jobs in the San Francisco Bay area, and the resulting lack of housing, we’re seeing middle and upper-middle class families moving into areas that were previously more working class. And of course working class families are being pushed even further out in part because the Bay area is basically opposed to building more housing, but that’s a different blog.

This means the make up of families in Richmond is changing. One shift has been an increase in the number of Asian-American and Chinese-American families, as well as more middle and upper-middle class families moving in. I believe the district realized that it needed to create programs that appealed to these families to make them stay in the district and not leave for charters or private schools. I haven’t had anyone in the District itself tell me that, but a few families have made that suggestion.

What is always true is that the more students a school district has, the more funding they get. No district wants to lose students and no district wants to have an ever-diminishing percentage of the children in its attendance area going to its schools. (Well, except for San Francisco Unified, but that’s really a different blog.)

So the city of Richmond, Calif. has gotten a school with three kindergarten classes, which is pretty impressive for a new program. Families are staying in the district and in the public schools. And kids are learning Mandarin. Not only that, but as part of the District’s commitment to ensuring equitable access to this school, 50% of the seats are reserved for students who are either low income, English learners or foster youth.

I’d love to hear from any families in the program about how it’s going, feel free to email me. I’ve met the principal twice and he seemed quite impressive, so hopefully it’s going well. Here’s an interview with him from the District’s website about the program.


Contra Costa’s new Mandarin dual-immersion school equals uncertainty for adult-ed programs in district

The Mandarin classroom, like other dual-immersion schools, is built around instruction that is 90 percent Mandarin. Eventually, instruction will be evenly split between the two languages. (Photo credit: Nuria Marquez Martinez)

Every morning at 9 a.m., teacher Xu Gong’s kindergarten class kids sits cross-legged on a bright blue and red rug while going through their morning routine: greetings, then the calendar, and finally counting to ten. A typical Richmond classroom — except for the fact that everyone is speaking in Mandarin.

The Chinese Mandarin dual-immersion program, approved by the school board this past February, welcomed its first three 24-student kindergarten classes in August at the Serra School in Richmond. Like the already established Spanish immersion program, students will begin learning the language from day one, with 90 percent of class instruction in Mandarin.

Please read more here.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. November 30, 2017 11:08 am

    Here is some recent media coverage for Denver Language School, where I have three students in the Mandarin program.


    Students learn Mandarin or Spanish first, then English, at …
    Students learn Mandarin or Spanish first, then English, at popular Denver public school English instruction is introduced gradually, beginning in third grade

    请 & Gracias: One of Denver’s most intriguing schools totally immerses kids in Spanish and Chinese
    Russell Haythorn Jacob Curtis

    Denver Language School is a TOP 10 DPS SCHOOL!


    Peter Grant


  2. Amy Cantu permalink
    December 7, 2017 11:25 am

    My son started at the West County Mandarin School in Richmond this school year, and our family has been so impressed with it so far. My son did not speak any Mandarin before beginning school here, and two months in, he already knows over 150 words. I am amazed! It is fascinating to see him learn all the subjects in Mandarin and also learn to read and write English at the same time. Beyond that, it has been beautiful to see this diverse school work together to create a warm and inclusive community for all of our students. Within a short time, the PTA was able to fundraise to have music in the classrooms once a week. Additionally, the principal, teachers, and staff have been so open and welcoming of ideas for enrichment classes and improvement suggestions. We now also have mindfulness and a recess/PE coach at our school. All the teachers are so enthusiastic and helpful in honoring each child in their education and development. It has been such a positive experience, and I have felt so lucky to have this public school as an option for my child.

  3. Amy Cantu permalink
    December 7, 2017 11:37 am

    Also, here’s a video from the WCMS back in September:

    A glimpse into what the school has been up to can also be found on this Facebook page:

  4. December 7, 2017 2:38 pm

    Hi! Another WCMS parent. It’s going so well! I feel super lucky that this school opened in my district when my oldest started kindergarten. We have no background in the Chinese language or any cultural, ethnic, or professional relationship to China. But we do value languages (our sons speak English and Spanish at home) and diversity. This school offers both — via the Mandarin immersion but also by having a sharp focus on recruiting a diverse student body. My son loves going to school, loves learning Mandarin, and that brings me so much joy. He’s even teaching his little brother. High hopes for the upcoming years! BTW: here’s the PTA website that has a lot more information

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