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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.

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