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Palo Alto school district eyes expansion of Mandarin immersion program

Original post made on Feb 9, 2015

The Palo Alto school board will discuss Tuesday evening a proposal to expand Ohlone Elementary School's popular Mandarin immersion program to Jordan Middle School.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Monday, February 9, 2015, 3:56 PM

Comments (29)

Posted by Stewart
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 9, 2015 at 8:09 pm

There are about 20 'graduates' of MI at Ohlone every year and Ma wants MI expanded to JLS. 20 MI graduates, assuming they all continue with MI and all go to the same middle school, do not fill one class in middle school. How is this sufficient demand to carve out dedicated MI language instruction? Outside the schools, Web Link and Web Link offer Mandarin instruction at several locations in PA. There seems to be a resources available in town, now, that do not require dedicated PAUSD financing.

Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 9, 2015 at 9:33 pm

No, no, no. The MI pilot promised us that there would be work done on implementation of a FLES program. That has not happened and the whole discussion never happened.

These lucky lottery winners are now expecting a bonus jackpot while 6th graders and below get nothing and even if all 7th graders wanted a foreign language elective, there would not be enough space for it.

Foreign language is a graduation requirement in PAUSD. It is about time that foreign language was taught in elementary school so that by the time high school comes along our students can become truly fluent at their language. A few years of high school language just to pass the requirement is useless as most students will never consider themselves competently fluent. It would be much better to start at a younger age with classes for all elementary students.

Posted by PAmoderate
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 9, 2015 at 10:27 pm

PAmoderate is a registered user.

*grabbing popcorn*

This thread should be fun.

Posted by Im H.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 9, 2015 at 10:59 pm

Just a note before the fireworks start on this thread. If you don't want to see this happen, your time will be better spent sending a note to PAUSD, and not posting here.

Most people knew when MI started that Mah would push for this to expand to middle school. They knew there wasn't a middle school bridge when they signed up. Money should go to the other 95% of the students.

Posted by Jim H.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 9, 2015 at 11:24 pm

The MI approval is buried in the board packet along with other middle school electives. The entire portion mentioning MI is copied below. Looks like they are talking about putting Mandarin as part of the 6th grade wheel.

Expansion of the Elementary Mandarin Immersion Program to Middle School
On August 19, a memo was sent to the Board regarding a request to extend Mandarin Immersion
to sixth grade. Here is an excerpt from that note:

“4. As Superintendent, I will send a formal request to Dr. Young to initiate established processes
to examine and report back on the feasibility of the following:
a. Implementing a Mandarin World Language Class beginning in seventh grade of
2015-16 at one of the middle schools. This world language class would be in addition
to existing World Language classes in grades seven and eight;
b. Including Mandarin in “the wheel” in the sixth grade at one of the middle schools with
the understanding that doing so would likely necessitate dropping an existing
component of the wheel; and
c. Reconsider offering Mandarin Immersion in sixth grade.”

A feasibility study of offering Mandarin Chinese language instruction at the middle school in
2015-16 was conducted during the first semester of the 2014-15 school year. It was concluded,
since the Elementary Mandarin Immersion program has been in in place at Ohlone Elementary
School since the fall of 2008, it would make sense to offer a bridge between the elementary and
high school language programs. Jordan Middle School already has its master schedule structured
to accommodate Spanish instruction for sixth through eighth graders who successfully completed
the Spanish Immersion program at Escondido Elementary School. It is proposed the same model
be applied to provide Mandarin instruction for students who successfully complete the Mandarin
Immersion Program at Ohlone Elementary School.

This pilot would include:
• one section of Mandarin at the sixth grade level, 2015-16
• one section of Mandarin at the sixth and seventh grade levels, 2016-17
• one section of Mandarin at the sixth, seventh, and eighth grade levels, 2017-18
The Jordan model currently provides one hour of Spanish instruction, four days per week, during a
frozen period in the master schedule. This same model would apply to the Mandarin Immersion
cohort, beginning with sixth grade in the 2015-16 school year, and expanding each year to the next
grade level. The cohort would take Mandarin language as an elective in seventh and eighth

By approving this pilot, staff will be able to move forward with writing the class curriculum, ordering
textbooks, developing a qualifying test for students who move into the district, and hiring a teacher.
The goal is to return to the Board with these items on June 23, 2015.

Posted by It's Called FOREIGN Language for a Reason
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 10, 2015 at 12:04 am

Im H: Good advice. I will definitely write to PAUSD.

I don't believe any foreign language "immersion" belongs as part of the public curriculum since it takes funds away from mainstream courses that help all students, not just a select few (non-needy) kids. It's quite enough that we already have immersion programs in elementary, they should NOT be expanded. If parents want immersion in a foreign language they should send their kids to a private school that teaches in their preferred language.

How can anyone expect our public schools to teach basic instruction in every language that someone thinks is nice to learn? The "important" foreign languages change every 10-15 years. When I was in middle school, German was the language to take. Spanish has always been popular. Then Japanese seemed to be the next most critical language to learn. Now, someone thinks its Mandarin because so many people are moving here from China.

If you want your kid to be immersed in a foreign language, then send them to one of the many private schools that offer that option. Or move to the country where that language is natively spoken. But please stop thinking the public school system should cater to the fad language of the day.

Posted by resident
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 10, 2015 at 9:06 am

This is so unnecessary in the public schools and doing a real disservice to the Asian students that come here to learn and are separated to learn something other than what is predominantly being taught, which is English. They should immerse themselves in the American culture and what is being taught here or find alternatives such as a private school to learn their desired language.

Posted by Karen Karpen
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Feb 10, 2015 at 9:32 am

Great news that PAUSD is considering middle school MI.

Posted by Experienced Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 10, 2015 at 9:33 am

Those who think elementary school non-immersion world language will make any impact are sadly mistaken. Learning a couple times per week? They may know a few phrases and words but it will not make world language in PAUSD any easier. World language classes in middle/high school in PAUSD is immersion from Day 1 and is difficult. I'd rather the time in elementary school go to learning programming.

Posted by Pearl2sea
a resident of Ventura
on Feb 10, 2015 at 10:43 am

I completely support foreign languages is the public school cirriculum. My kids were part of the original MI class and they benefited greatly from the program.

Posted by Eric Rosenblum
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 10, 2015 at 10:56 am

Eric Rosenblum is a registered user.

This is exciting... I would love for Jordan to offer more language classes. Unfortunately too late for our son, but our daughter at Addison may have the opportunity to take advantage when she gets there! Thanks to those parents who have devoted the time and energy to make this happen.

I went to a (poorly funded) public school that somehow decided to offer Latin to us in middle school (I think that the local seminary offered priests to be our instructors). It expanded my horizons greatly, and remains among the most memorable and important experiences of those years for me.

Posted by Chris Zaharias
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 10, 2015 at 11:09 am

Chris Zaharias is a registered user.

My dad was born in Greece and my mom was born in Chicago of Greek-born parents. My mom had the unfortunate experience of growing up in the Greek community in Chicago, and felt she was robbed by her parents of the chance to grow up as a true American = in English.

Against my dad's wishes, she wouldn't let us learn Greek, because she wanted us to grow up American. I am SO thankful that she made that positive decision, because guess what, I grew up truly American.

It is one thing to speak your native tongue at home and to teach your children your language at home. IMHO, though, immigrant parents do their children a great disservice when they immerse them in the native tongue at school. Why? We deprive them of the incredibly valuable opportunity to grow up fully inside of America's language and culture.

Posted by Gethin
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 10, 2015 at 12:18 pm

Gethin is a registered user.

A foreign language immersion program should not be part of the core educational offerings. If you want your Mandarin -speaking child to maintain their proficiency or your non-Mandarin speaking child to learn Mandarin then that should be done externally or as an elective. I wonder what the ratio is of Mandarin speakers to non-Mandarin speakers in the current offerings? I would not go to China and expect or want my child to be in an English immersion program, why should it happen here?

Posted by English would be nice
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 10, 2015 at 12:40 pm

It would be so nice if PAUSD would teach English. The notes/weekly Friday folder information from TEACHERS and newsletters from the PRINCIPAL at my children's elementary school often contain grammatical errors and incorrect punctuation.

Posted by Pearl
a resident of another community
on Feb 10, 2015 at 12:44 pm

Pearl is a registered user.

I don't wish to appear overly inquisitive, but what's the deal about people pushing for MI programs in our schools? Is having a command of Mandarin going to help our kids get jobs when they graduate? All this MI stuff smacks of "trendy" to me.

If you want your kids to learn Mandarin for some reason, then send them to one of the already-established Mandarin Immersion programs in the SFBA.

Knowing Mandarin is not a marketable skill here in the SFBA. There is no need for kids living here in the SFBA to learn Mandarin. Such a program is irrelevant and a total waste of time. It would take away from the teaching resources that should rightfully be used for students to give them solid math, science, reading and writing skills, as well as teaching them simple every-day things, such as knowing how to write a check, how to count change, how to prepare a simple tax return, how to balance a checkbook, how to responsibly manage their credit cards, etc., etc. Those kinds of skills are what will help your kids get jobs, and get ahead in this world.

There is no need for Mandarin skills here in the SFBA/Silicon Valley.

Posted by kathy
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 10, 2015 at 1:02 pm

The PAUSD should have a required K-12 immersion program on speaking and writing correct English!! Since when does "You know" AND "I'M LIKE" take the place of breathing or stopping between sentences? I send graduation, birthday cards, and gifts to relatives' and friends' children in Palo Alto and other California places. I am appalled at the grammar and sentence structure - if there is any, and the penmanship, and "incorrect English". Scratching out written mistakes on thank you notes 'does not cut it!!" Do schools teach "cursive" anymore? Children here are groomed for college when they leave the maternity ward. By high school graduation time, good English seems to get lost someplace. When it comes to grammar, I also notice that some of our local newspaper reporters are not much better although the Weekly usually does pass muster. Parents and children from other countries should understand that this is an English-speaking country. Talk to your neighbors. You will learn something...... and you may even enjoy it!! "Hello","How are you?" isn't hard to say or understand. And a smile is 'universal'.

Posted by Asian dad
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 10, 2015 at 1:35 pm

Great debate here. I think the main argument should focus on whether or not PAUSD should fund this, not on whether or not Mandarin is a useful language to learn for children growing up in our community.

I think America is awesome, and I am so grateful to have lived and grown up in this country. The official language here is English, and I think a strong command of this language should be the top priority in any US educational system.

In high school, foreign language is a requirement, so it seems like the high school, at least, should be required to offer foreign languages...perhaps based on future utility? Spanish will be useful for a while, in my opinion. In my old high school, they also taught French and Russian, which are cool, but perhaps not as practical, except for the occasional trip to Paris or Moscow. Mandarin, in my opinion, is not a "fad" language. It is definitely the language of the future, after English, of course. China is rapidly growing as an economic power, and the Chinese population is rapidly growing in the US, especially in the Bay Area. As far as practicality is concerned, Mandarin definitely fits the bill.

However, I myself have chosen not to learn the language, nor have I encouraged my kids to learn it. There are too many fun things to do in life, and not enough time or motivation for this extra activity for now. For the time being, we will focus on English and a carefree childhood.

While I think that MI can be a great idea for any given family who has decided to do this, I do not particularly support using PAUSD tax dollars to pay for it. For those that want it, I agree that they should seek and pay for it on their own, in private school.

Posted by Experienced Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 10, 2015 at 1:50 pm

@Kathy, cursive is taught in 3rd grade, but not to the level of success. They spend such a short time on it!

Haha on the K-12 English immersion posting! So true. I graduated from Paly in '81 and at that time, PAUSD English departments were exceptional. We were taught how to write in English classes beginning in middle school. Teachers would lecture on writing skills. English classes had vocabulary lists/quizzes in high school while most teachers do not require this anymore (hello, SATs?). One-two page essays were returned within a few days with red pen marks so we could learn from them. Most every Paly alum I have connected with through FB has flawless grammar.

Meanwhile, the teachers now return papers with no corrections so the student doesn't know how to improve or have peer corrections. How can a peer have the knowledge of someone with an English degree?

Writing skills should be the top priority of PAUSD because it impacts all careers.

Posted by Gunn Father
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 10, 2015 at 1:59 pm

Rather than fund this with our precious education dollars, how about funding after school music, or how about the sports teams that MS and HS families have to pay to have their kids attend ? A vocal minority is overreaching for what little funds there are. Totally agree with others, how about an English immersion program? We must be the only country in the world speaking less English every year. Is the ballot in any major Chinese city in English too? I think not. Math immersion would not be a bad idea either, so parents would not have to send their kids to math tutors .
If parents want their kids to speak Mandarin, or Russian, great, do so on your own private nickel.

Posted by resident
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 10, 2015 at 2:12 pm

I appreciate Asian Dad's comments.

This comment says it all, "China is rapidly growing as an economic power, and the Chinese population is rapidly growing in the US, especially in the Bay Area."

Chinese people are coming over to America and want to change the way of life here to accommodate their growing population's needs?

Is the Asian population going to change more of our curriculum so that our children no longer learn about American History? I sure hope not.

Posted by Asian Dad
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 10, 2015 at 3:21 pm

to resident.... you kinda missed the point I was trying to make.

I'm not in favor of funding Mandarin immersion in middle school. I'm merely saying that Mandarin is growing in importance as a foreign language in the US.

I thought this debate was about whether or not the MI program should be funded.

But perhaps more likely, this is likely to degenerate into a venting forum for people with xenophobic US vs. THEM views.

Times are changing, and people need to adapt. If you disagree with the program and want to do something about this, then go to a board meeting and let yourself be heard, instead of writing these types of hateful comments anonymously.

Posted by Unneeded
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 10, 2015 at 3:59 pm

I was raised in Belgium and the Netherlands. English has replaced French as the language of trade and diplomacy.

Most native Mandarin speakers, of middle class or higher, speak English....especially if they are in any kind of business venture.

Most of the world, except for parts of Eastern Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, speak fluent English, even in rural areas.

Greece, Italy, and France do not routinely teach English ( so those languages are needed more than Mandarin).

Remember how everyone thought they needed to learn Japanese twenty years ago? And now that is a moot point? The same will be Sid for Mandarin. So don't rush into it.

Posted by Addison Parent
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 10, 2015 at 4:05 pm

At the first school board election debate that all the candidates were in favor of beginning language instruction in elementary schools. Web Link What happened to that promise? Immersion is great for those few who get in, but wouldn't it be better for the district to focus on foreign language instruction for all starting at a young age?

Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 10, 2015 at 4:35 pm

I think that before this breaks down into some type of argument about different languages and the need for learning them (as opposed to teaching them) we should get back to the basic point of equality.

Spanish Immersion started as a boost to the district at a time of falling enrollment. Mandarin Immersion came into the district at a time of rising enrollment and the board (quite rightly in my opinion) felt that now (or then) was not the time to start another immersion program for several reasons. The issue became a hot topic primarily as it was seen to be a lottery for a few lucky winners while the rest of the elementary school population had no foreign language classes at all. If there is a value in learning a language, it should be available to every student in a public school district, not to just a few lucky lottery winners. Whatever the value, it should be available to all who want it. Just as music, or art is available to all elementary students, we should be offering the same education to all students. This is equitable education opportunities. Unfortunately, there were a group of parents who felt that this did not suit them so they threatened to form a charter school if they didn't get what they wanted. Unfortunately, the board fell to the threats, and although the vote was split, the decision was reluctantly, very reluctantly, made to give these vocal parents what they wanted.

At the time there was the discussion that foreign language should be available to all elementary students, FLES. The pilot program was agreed for 3 years and FLES was to be explored. The pilot program was expanded, no FLES discussion. Now the same group of parents - at least we expect it is the same group of parents - are looking for special treatment for their children once again. There is still no discussion of FLES.

All the values of learning a language other than English have been discussed, studied and weighed. The values are not just in learning the foreign language itself, but the values of understanding how language itself works which ultimately improves English skills. Whether the language being learned is Spanish, Latin or Mandarin, the theory is that English skills are much better for those who learn another language than those who only learn English. For all those above saying that we should be improving our English teaching rather than worrying about another language, the evidence supports that English skills improve when a student is also learning another language.

So to get back to the equity issue. Do we treat all our students equally and give them all the opportunity of learning a language other than English in K - 6, or do we continue the status quo of leaving a foreign language elective until 7th grade? That should be the debate, not should we give a group of parents who succeeded with their threatening behavior once, get what they want a second time.

Posted by Chinese Born in CA
a resident of Duveneck School
on Feb 10, 2015 at 5:09 pm

Very ignorant posting by "resident". The MI parents are making us look bad. Most Chinese are hardworking, keep their heads down, thoughts to themselves and succeed through sheer hard work. They aren't demanding Chinese characters on packaging. Let's not forget the abuse endured building the railroads. No one recalls because we don't complain or blame. Many have come hear speaking no English, yet have succeeded financially by retirement age - cannot say that about all cultures. And how about those Americans born here who expect the government to support them?

I digress. No need for MI or SI. The Chinese learn English on their own. Let The Americans learn other languages on their own or in classes. Immersion and choice programs were started in the 80s when enrollment was down. Revert back to neighborhood schools and abandon VTP.

Posted by right on
a resident of Barron Park School
on Feb 10, 2015 at 5:49 pm

I couldn't agree more with Pearl, Chris and others. All the kids should learn to speak American, including the Chinese kids.

Posted by Bring Back Ohone!
a resident of Ohlone School
on Feb 10, 2015 at 6:11 pm

Am I the only one who thinks the school board and Grace et. al., ruined an imperfect, but nonetheless wonderfully quirky school by planting cultivated rows of plum blossoms and camellias (that's to you Ms. Townsend) in a wildflower park? Apparently SI doesn't mix much with mainstream Escondido either. Why not join MI/SI/Etc. under one campus--call it International School of PAUSD--and restore Ohlone?

From a Chinese-loving Chinese American and Ohlone Parent

Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 11, 2015 at 10:09 am

@Bring Back Ohlone - the idea of an all immersion school makes perfect sense!

@pearl from another community - the "deal about people pushing for MI programs in our schools" is about people who want their children to learn their heritage language without putting them in a private program. The timing of both the MI in Palo Alto and Menlo Park, and the push for middle school MI (which actually makes sense since we have one at the elementary level, silly not to continue) is tied to the age of the backers' children.

The interesting thing about MI in the middle school is that I don't think there was enough interest from the Ohlone I parents to host one. They probably need at least 25 students to justify hosting a class.

Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 25, 2015 at 4:26 pm

To "right on" and those who "liked" your comment:

"American" is NOT a language; English is.

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