A "surprise" $201,418 grant to help institute a Mandarin immersion program in Palo Alto elementary schools is being analyzed by district officials to see the district can still meet its terms.
The grant was applied for in 2006, but the district missed getting it by half a point. Officials assumed the application was dead and all but forgot about it.
But the funds showed up on a list of grants announced last week U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spelling.
Instead of seeking new applications this year,t the federal officials apparently turned to unfunded grants last year.
But because so much has changed over the past year Palo Alto school officials are taking a close look at the original application. Associate Superintendent Marilyn Cook told the Weekly she needs to find out if the district can still meet the terms of the grant.
"I guess you can always say its good news when somebody wants to fund a program, but I'm not sure yet what it means to us. Bottom line on that, it carries obligations as well as opportunities," she said.
The application was originally proposed by Palo Altans for Chinese Education (PACE) in April of 2006. The district later adopted the proposal. (The original PACE proposal starts on page 54 in the April 25, 2006 board materials which can be found at http://www.pausd.org/community/board/downloads/mt_mat_arch/05_06/pkt_042506.pdf.)
The grant is part of the federal National Security Language Initiative intended to address the shortage of critical foreign-language speakers. The initiative aims to boost the number of Americans studying Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Hindi, Farsi and others in programs from kindergarten through college.
Palo Alto school board member Mandy Lowell said the grant is not a result of the board's recent decision to implement Mandarin immersion at Ohlone school or study how to expand language in elementary schools.
In 2006, the district applied for a three-year $180,000 federal-language assistance program grant, but the district missed qualifying by half a point.
The new Mandarin-immersion program will make the district eligible for a wider range of grants, Lowell added.
"Too few speak languages like Arabic, Chinese and Farsi at a time when communication is vital to a peaceful world," Spellings said. "We hope these funds will enable more students to become fluent in critical languages."
Fewer than 1 percent of American high school students study the targeted languages, including Korean and Urdu, according to the State Department. Less than 8 percent of U.S. undergraduates take foreign-language courses and fewer than 2 percent study abroad in any given year, the department said. Foreign language degrees account for only 1 percent of undergraduate degrees conferred in the United States.
"This is not just an education issue. It's an economic issue, a civic issue, a social issue, a national-security issue, and it's everybody's issue," Spellings said.
She said 44 percent of American high school students study foreign languages -- low compared to students in the European Union, China, Thailand and other countries where learning a second or third language is mandatory.
"Many begin learning before they're even 10 years old," Spellings said. "And as fluent, accent-less adults, they will have a strong advantage over monolingual Americans in developing new relationships and businesses in countries other than their own."