Skip to content

How Fremont, Calif. got its Mandarin immersion program

June 26, 2020

Fremont, California is a northern suburb of San Jose with a population of about 240,000, many of whom work in Silicon Valley. The city is 57% Asian.

All of which made it a natural for a Mandarin immersion program in its public schools. In 2008 a group of extremely determined parents made that happen.

Today there are over 400 students in the program with two additional Kindergarten classes being added next year. All due to active parents and a strong parent group — The Chinese Immersion Parents Council of Fremont — that works for the program all through the entire K -12 progression, at the elementary, middle and high school level.

It is so popular that for the for the past few years the wait list for spaces in Kindergarten has been over 50 families, said parent Jeff Bowen.

For the 2019-2020 school year, the MI program in Fremont Unified had 14 classes. There were two each for grades kindergarten through sixth grade at Azevada Elementary School.

Additionally, there are two seventh and one eighth grade class at Hopkins Jr. High School. And the first cohort of students, 17 strong, just finished their freshman year at Mission San Jose High School.

According to survey by the parent group, 73% of the families speak English, 15% speak Mandarin, and 9% speak Cantonese as primary languages at home.

A second grade Mandarin immersion class at
Azevada Elementary School in Fremont, California in 2016.

The program is still growing. On Wednesday May 20th 2020, the Council received a vote from the Fremont Unified School District Board that the Mandarin program  could add two additional classes for the 2020-21 school year.

It took a tremendous amount of work on the part of dedicated parents. Here’s a history from the Chinese Immersion Parents Council of Fremont:

When I think back to the beginning before the school board passed the immersion school resolution, I remember how hopeful we were that we could get the program off the ground. I don’t think people know the struggle it was to get the program passed by the school board.

Wei-Lin Tong and her father Dr. Wang worked for two and a half years to get the CIP in front of the school board. Jeff Bowen played a role and stood before the board to argue in favor of the program as well. There were many people at the school board meeting who were against the immersion program citing that the district couldn’t afford the program in the midst of the economic downturn and teacher layoffs.

The board reluctantly put the CIP resolution to vote and the resolution barely passed in June 2010 but with numerous, numerous stipulations. The school board gave us 9 days to recruit 30 students for the kindergarten class, in addition we had to fund the entire start-up cost independently. If we did not meet the conditions, the kinder class would be canceled and then we would have had to start the resolution process again.

Together with Wei-Lin and her parents, we tried everything to get the word out. It was like working at a start-up in a garage. Instead, we met at Asian Pearl restaurant to work out our strategy and it was there that we came up with CIPCF and talked about the direction that we wanted the council to take. It was first suggested that we name the council Fremont Unified Parents’ Council, but we later decided that the acronym, FUCP was too close to a derogatory word.

Jeff and I took the lead in setting up the blog and burned the late night oil creating a business plan and the blog. We worked with Wei-Lin and Dr. Wang on the content. Dr. Wang must have sent us 15 articles a day on the benefits of Chinese immersion to post on the blog. Within a day, Jeff and I got the blog up and running.

As there were only five of us, we knew that we needed to appear legitimate to build CIP. So, we created a logo. Dr. Wang faxed me a sketch of his vision for the logo and I used Powerpoint to create what is now our CIPCF logo. While we worked on going viral, Wei-Lin and her parents got us coverage in the newspapers and worked tirelessly to get the funding. Big contributors were CBC and Dr. Albert Wang. We worked with principal Carole Diamond and the school district to get flyers in the registration packages and organized the first informational meeting. The turnout was incredible; over 100 people attended the meeting. We even had an informal meeting at Fremont Public Library and skyped in the producers of Speaking in Tongues to participate.

In July of 2010, less than a month since passing of the resolution, we had to report back to the school board with our current status. The Board was shocked – as were we – that we had collected enough applications to fill a kindergarten class in the fall.

There were so many missed opportunities by the school board to get the Chinese Immersion Program started earlier. We missed out on a million dollar Federal grant that would have paved the way for us so that we wouldn’t have to worry about fundraising. A Chinese Immersion program in Palo Alto was fortunate enough to be granted the money.

It is truly short of a miracle that we established the Chinese Immersion Program in 9 days, which was two years in the making. Our hope is that the council continues to keep fundraising and outreach a priority to recruit new students. It should be a main focus for CIPCF, as we initially intended when we were sitting at the dinner table with Wei-Lin and her parents.

Fundraising in the time of COVID-19, an example from Ohio

June 24, 2020

As schools look at a new and as yet unclear future, here’s a nice example from an immersion charter school in Ohio of how to do online fundraising. The GALA gala each year always sounded like a lot of fun (from seeing their emails). It’s impressive how they managed to capture some of their excitement online, not an easy trick.

Here are the videos they ran each day:

What does GALA mean to you?

Our Teachers

The Mandarin program

The Spanish program

A Special Place

The National Chinese Language Conference is online next week — and it’s free!

June 18, 2020

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the annual National Chinese Language Conference is happening online this year, Wednesday through Friday June 24-26, and it’s free.

Of course the online version will be much diminished from the usual rich mix of interactions, school visits and presentations that bring educators up to date on the latest in Chinese instruction. But it is one of the places were the newest innovations in Mandarin immersion tend to be introduced.

The only silver lining of moving online is that this year offers a chance for those of us who can’t take a week off, or don’t have anyone to pay for a week at a conference, to attend and see the latest and the greatest.

Yes, it’s some serious immersion geeking out, but for those of us who love this stuff, what could be better to do for a couple of hours every day next week?

You can find out more and register here.

Principal who brought Mandarin immersion to Hawaii moving to Mainland

June 17, 2020

An example of how a principal with a vision and totally transform a school — and create the only Mandarin immersion program in Hawai’i. Which, thankfully, will continue on.

Aloha, President Perry Martin


The outgoing Maryknoll president’s vision for the school parallels the founding sisters’ mission and charism

By the Maryknoll Sisters of the Central Pacific Region

We Maryknoll Sisters would like to express our deep gratitude to Perry Martin for his leadership, vision and values as president of Maryknoll School for the past 12 years. He has led the school in a very extraordinary way with a compassionate heart deeply rooted in the teachings of the Catholic Church.

The Maryknoll Sisters had many opportunities planning events with President Martin and his staff. He is very committed to the mission of the Maryknoll Sisters and the charism of our founder, Mother Mary Joseph Rogers. He is a compassionate leader with a sincere devotion to prayer through the rosary. About a year ago when we Maryknoll Sisters accompanied a critically sick sister, it was President Martin himself, who led the rosary.

He has kept the Maryknoll Sisters worldwide congregation connected to the school, intentionally, through many school events and activities. President Martin and other school personnel visited the Maryknoll Sisters motherhouse in New York to enhance students’ learning. We take pride in his vision for the school because it parallels our mission and charism and teaches future generations about the Maryknoll Sisters’ history, purpose and charism. We have seen, firsthand, how Maryknoll students practice a missionary consciousness, able to use those skills at a young age. President Martin is committed to providing leadership through his forward-thinking mindset, positioned and always poised to embrace our mission and integrate it into the life of the school.

Please read more here.

Another article about Principal Martin.

Mandarin program saved in Delaware after referendum win

June 12, 2020

Good news from Delaware. I posted about the difficult decisions they were facing there last week here.

Christina School Board moves to restore teacher jobs, sports and more after referendum win

Natalia Alamdari Delaware News Journal

Following a successful referendum on Tuesday, the Christina School Board took the initial steps Wednesday night to restore program and teaching cuts made in May. 

The board directed district leadership to immediately begin recalling recently laid off teachers, move forward in restoring all academic and extracurricular programs that were cut in May, and determine if any lapsed temporary teaching contracts could be restored. 

On Tuesday night, all four sections of the referendum passed with roughly two-thirds of voter support. 

Had the referendum failed, the district would have faced a nearly $10 million budget deficit. In May, the board made preemptive cuts to 136 teaching positions, all sports, several parts of the music department, student clubs and student programs like Chinese immersion and the gifted program. 

Please read more here.

Bilingualism and Biliteracy for All – A Chinese professor’s perspective

June 10, 2020

By Chan Lü

Dr. Lü is a professor at the University of Washington, my alma mater and the place I first studied Chinese. I still haven’t convinced my daughter to apply there, even though she’d be a 5th generation Husky! but I haven’t given up yet….

From: American Federation of Teachers

About one-third of children under age 8 in the United States have at least one parent who speaks a language other than English at home.1 And as of 2016, 9.6 percent of all U.S. public school students were identified as English language learners.2 It is obvious that the American student population is becoming increasingly multilingual.
This trend is often widely celebrated in other countries. But as scholars who have focused on an array of issues related to borders and democracy have noted, the United States has a complex history with bilingualism:

In many countries, the ability of children to speak more than one language is seen as important. Such is generally not the case in the United States. As sociolinguist Joshua Fishman and his coauthors have claimed, “Many Americans have long been of the opinion that bilingualism is ‘a good thing’ if it was acquired via travel (preferably to Paris) or via formal education (preferably at Harvard) but that it is a ‘bad thing’ if it was acquired from one’s immigrant parents or grandparents.”3

Fishman made that claim more than five decades ago, but it still rings true—if not quite as loudly—today. For instance, Richard Ruíz and other scholars contend that in the United States, speaking a language other than English continues to be perceived as a problem, which they term a “language-as-problem orientation.”4 Perhaps because of this perception, the burgeoning multilingualism of our nation’s children is challenging our current instructional practices and even more so our educational systems. Across the country, we lack the preparation, materials, supports, or infrastructure to handle our children’s linguistic diversity. Given the multiple benefits of speaking more than one language fluently,* we should actually celebrate this diversity—and we can.

Please read more here.

Economic crisis threatens Mandarin immersion programs

June 7, 2020

Like many other school districts, the Christina School District in Delaware is facing as much as $10 million in cuts due to the economic downturn. It’s holding a school referendum vote on Tuesday to raise taxes to keep the schools from having to make draconian cuts.

The list of possible cuts is long, and included — as in many districts — a Mandarin immersion program that could be seen as an extra that’s no longer affordable.

Another $10 million in budget reductions. No sports. No program for gifted and talented children. No extracurricular or cocurricular activities. The end of a popular dual-language Chinese immersion program. No more Montessori Academy. No district-wide strings program. No instrumental music in elementary schools. No instructional coaches and curriculum specialists in key subject areas. The elimination of 67 jobs, most of them teachers.

The article below goes into some of the issues Christina faces. They are issues other school districts will have to grapple with this coming year as the budget realities become clear.

Christina School District faces crucial referendum vote



School referendums are difficult enough to pass under normal conditions.  But during a global pandemic that’s forced schools to remote learning and severely damaged the economy, getting voters to approve one now seems an almost impossible task.

But it’s one the Christina School District faces with voters heading to the polls Tuesday to decide if they will back a tax increase need to stave off drastic cuts.

This week, contributor Larry Nagengast digs into what the referendum is seeking, why it’s needed and what will happen if it come up short.ListenListening…13:59Delaware Public Media’s Tom Byrne and contributor Larry Nagengast discuss what’s at stake in the Christina School District’s latest referendum.

By any rational standard, this is not a good time for a school district to be asking its residents to approve a significant tax increase.

Please read (and listen) more here.