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Palo Alto school board backs Mandarin immersion program expansion

Jordan Middle School could host new pilot program

Palo Alto school board members agreed Tuesday night that expanding an elementary school Mandarin immersion program to Jordan Middle School – filling a hole in the district in Mandarin instruction between elementary and high schools -- is a common-sense decision that they support.

Staff brought a proposal to the board to begin a pilot expansion of Ohlone Elementary School's popular Mandarin immersion program at Jordan this fall. The Ohlone program began in the fall of 2008 with 40 students and steadily grew to its targeted size of 124 by the 2012-2013 school year.

"We have all these kids, our warm bodies, in elementary school," said board vice president Heidi Emberling. "A bridge is needed."

Modeled after Jordan's Spanish-immersion program, the pilot Mandarin program would be offered for one hour, four days a week, to students who graduated from the Ohlone program. The pilot is proposed for Jordan rather than Terman or JLS middle schools because that period of instruction was already built into the school's master schedule for the Spanish program, staff said.

If approved, the program would begin with one section for sixth-graders this fall, and increase over the next two years (one section for sixth- and seventh-graders in the 2016-17 year and one section at all three grade levels in the 2017-18 year).

Currently, students who enroll in Ohlone's choice program each year have no in-school options for Mandarin instruction in middle school. (Both Palo Alto and Gunn high schools offer several levels of the language.) Parents of current Ohlone students told the board Tuesday the impact that a three-year gap in instruction could have on their children.

"I think a bridge to high school is definitely needed to keep this education and language proficiency and in the case of my kids, I think the enhanced confidence they've gotten from tackling a challenging experience like this -- to keep those things from being wasted," said James Porter, the father of a second- and fourth-grader in the Ohlone program. "A three-year gap is really significant at the sixth-grade level, especially given the social and academic demands that come up in middle school."

Parent and Mandarin-immersion advocate Grace Mah told the board that a study of the Ohlone program, conducted by Amado Padilla of the Stanford University Graduate School of Education, found that fifth-graders graduating from the program who took a language proficiency test scored at approximately the same level as third- and fourth-grade level Mandarin students at Gunn and Paly.

"The importance of this is that if (Mandarin immersion) students exit Ohlone and then have no Mandarin instruction until high school, they will likely regress ... and the full potential of the (Mandarin immersion) program is not achieved," Mah said.

Students who graduate from the Ohlone program would be given first priority for the Jordan course, staff said. If there's room, they could open it up to students who pass a qualifying test.

Board member Ken Dauber acknowledged that there is a community concern around expanding a choice program that operates on a lottery basis, serving a select rather than broad population of students.

"I think it would be desirable if we were receiving this proposal at the same time that we were also considering a proposal for an extension of language instruction into elementary grades as well because I think part of the concern in the community around the first Mandarin immersion program and to some extent, this proposal, is a sense that we should be providing the good things about foreign-language instruction more broadly," Dauber said. "I think that's true and I hope that we will get to that point, but it's also the case that the timing of this is such that this is kind of a targeted opportunity, so I think we should seize that."

The district will likely be looking at further foreign-language programming after this year, when an outside research firm finishes an evaluation of the district's world language offerings, including the current Mandarin and Spanish programs.

The board will vote on the proposal at its next meeting on Feb. 24. If approved, staff will move forward with writing the course curriculum, ordering textbooks, developing a qualifying test for students who move into the district and hiring a teacher. Staff plans to return to the board on June 23 to report on the progress -- and cost -- of these efforts.

Jordan Principal Greg Barnes said if approved, the school will hold an information night for parents interested in the pilot program in early March.

Comments

4 people like this
Posted by choice or what?
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 11, 2015 at 10:25 am

So, just to be clear, this program will only open to students who have graduated from the Ohlone program and not to any other students?


Like this comment
Posted by Elena Kadvany
a resident of another community
on Feb 11, 2015 at 10:52 am

choice or what?: Students who graduate from the Ohlone program would receive first priority. If there is room, staff indicated that they could open the class up to students who take a qualifying test.


12 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 11, 2015 at 11:05 am

Listen to Ken Dauber on this. He is correct.

We must not have lucky lottery winners getting 13 years of foreign language instruction in Palo Alto and the rest get 4 or possibly 6.

Equal educational opportunities for all.


9 people like this
Posted by Baba
a resident of another community
on Feb 11, 2015 at 11:35 am

Ex Palo Altan

Immerse in music, the arts, not in the a supplementary language ,which is the resposilblity of parents to teach at home, not using the public dime. One language unites the various cultures of this country, not polyglot ism. I favor all languages from whatever your ethnicity is, but let's keep our common language in the public schools and use our resources to strengthen the arts, which are so lacking in funds.


13 people like this
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 11, 2015 at 12:16 pm

It's an equity issue for students across PAUSD - this is a K-12 district, and catering to a select few parents who choose an exclusive program for their kids is wrong.
There are numerous Mandarin language programs available all over, and requiring the taxpayers to fund this small, exclusive language program is patently unfair.
Furthermore, irrespective of whatever language has the most proponents at the time, at this time; we have known for a long time that the language programs in PAUSD deserve re-evaluation at all levels for ALL students in the district.
Decisions in PAUSD should be based on equity for all students.


7 people like this
Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 11, 2015 at 1:19 pm

How many students would they need to have to commit to this program. Adding a class at Jordan used to required 25 kids to sign up. The Ohlone parents of the first 5th grade "graduating" MI class were surveyed about interest in continuing into Middle School and there was not enough interest. And if I remember correctly, when the MI "pilot" started, the founders expressly said they would NOT pursue a middle school program.


1 person likes this
Posted by Elena Kadvany
a resident of another community
on Feb 11, 2015 at 1:33 pm

palo alto resident: Staff said last night that they have the standard 24 students required to create a new class.


7 people like this
Posted by Jim H.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 11, 2015 at 1:45 pm

Do they look at enrollment numbers? How many of the Ohlone MI students would "naturally" go to Jordan (vs. JLS or Terman)? You're looking at increasing Jordan by some number between 0-75, in addition to the normal growth. At the same time, you'll be decreasing enrollment at JLS and Terman.

Jordan is already packed to the rafters.

Midtown traffic should get really fun when all of these students need to get driven to/from Jordan.

Time to open up Cubberley and Greendell. Put all of the choice programs in one location.


9 people like this
Posted by Alex
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 11, 2015 at 4:57 pm

Baba, I'm quite glad you're an Ex-Palo Altan, because that way you have no say in language instruction in the city. Clearly you have no idea how bilingualism helps the human brain, plus gives students more chances to succeed in multiple countries (like Japan, where I can ASSURE you few people speak English). IMO, the PAUSD needs to expand it's foreign language offerings to at least Elementary school, to make sure that Palo Alto's students aren't left behind by other countries.


6 people like this
Posted by Immersion should be a private program
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 11, 2015 at 10:32 pm

I completely support foreign language education in our public schools. Our kids should want to learn foreign languages in order to be competitive in this global world, but it is up to each family to decide if, and how many years of electives should be devoted to foreign language. No child should be forced to take a foreign language - mastering English and writing and communication skills are far more important.

I REALLY DO NOT support making Mandarin part of the 6th grade wheel. If making Mandarin part of the 6th grade wheel is not pandering to special interests I don't know what is. I don't know what it would replace, but Mandarin is NOT part of American life - it is a FOREIGN language which has nothing to do with the roots of the English language. The Wheel currently has a class on language origins, in which the kids learn something about the Latin roots of the English language, which is very useful.

If Mandarin is truly being considered to be part of the wheel or mandatory in any way, I will be out with bells on protesting!


Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Feb 12, 2015 at 12:15 am

Is this one hour per day 4X per week - is that one of their electives?


Like this comment
Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 12, 2015 at 7:54 am

If MI is modeled after the Spanish Immersion program, it will take place one period a day for four out of the five days as one a "core class", not as part of the elective wheel. (At Jordan, you have each class 4 days a week). In 7th and 8th grade it is simply an advanced language class as one of the students' electives. This of course, means that a 7th or 8th grade student only has one elective choice instead of two (which in my experience was when a lot of kids dropped out so they could take another, fun elective such as Industrial Tech, Drama, Art, Journalism, etc.)


1 person likes this
Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 12, 2015 at 7:56 am

Sorry - left something out

In 6th grade, If MI is modeled after the Spanish Immersion program it will take place one period a day for four out of the five days as one a "core class", not as part of the elective wheel. At Jordan, you have each class 4 days a week.

In 7th and 8th grade it is simply an advanced language class as one of the students' electives. This of course, means that a 7th or 8th grade student only has one elective choice instead of two (which in my experience was when a lot of the Spanish Immersion kids dropped out so they could take two non-language electives such as Industrial Tech, Drama, Art, Journalism, etc.)


6 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 12, 2015 at 8:08 am

So let's for a minute think that this is going ahead.

Does this mean that PAUSD employs a teacher to teach one wheel period 4 times a week for the 6 weeks of the wheel and another 2 periods (not sure how often a week middle schoolers have electives), one for 7th grade and one for 8th grade? This is very much a part time teaching position. For this part time teacher who will be teaching 3 different grade levels. First part of the question is whether we can find a credentialed, qualified teacher, who is willing to teach this part time position? Second question is how much will this part time teacher cost?

Lastly, since the mandarin language is not a well known language by district officials (presumably), how can we know whether the text books, materials, lessons, are not full of political propaganda or other unsuitable material that we do not want our students being taught. Who is going to oversee that a teacher speaking mandarin to the students is being responsible?

For example, a teacher might be using mandarin swear words, teaching religion, teaching political propaganda, or anything that teacher wants to teach, and how will we know?


7 people like this
Posted by Ron Swanson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 12, 2015 at 8:26 am

"For example, a teacher might be using mandarin swear words, teaching religion, teaching political propaganda, or anything that teacher wants to teach, and how will we know?"

That's it. We are officially an episode of Parks and Recreation.


4 people like this
Posted by Uh oh
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 12, 2015 at 8:44 am

The Manchurian Schoolteacher


7 people like this
Posted by Faye
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 12, 2015 at 9:30 am

This is a mistake and is sending a bad message and precedence. There should not be select groups, that's what private schools are for.


2 people like this
Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 12, 2015 at 9:46 am

@paly parent - A MI teacher would have 6th grade students one period, four days a week (not as part of the wheel, as part of the regular classes, they would teach math, science, english and social studies in Mandarin for one period a day), they would have 7th grade students one period a day, four days a week and 8th grade students one period, four days a week. So that is 12 classes a week. So it is a part time position, but that is not that unusual, In theory, the Mandarin teacher could also teach Mandarin 1 and 2 to the non-MI students if there is enough interest. So that would be 2 more periods, 4 days a week, a total of 20 hours I assume a full-time teacher has 5 classes, 4 days a week for 20 class periods.

I don't think we should have started MI to begin with, but since we have it, it seems foolish not to continue through middle school and high school.


1 person likes this
Posted by choice or what?
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 12, 2015 at 10:41 am

I have no problem with Mandarin in middle-school. I also have no problem with an advanced and beginner classes assuming there is the 24 students needed to fill a class.

I do have a problem with priority given to the 10 students that graduate each year from Ohlone MI for the any class. There should be no preference given to any student for these slots. The Ohlone MI students may avoid the "test in" aspect to the class but should be given the same priority as other students able to "test in".

This should apply to SI as well as MI places. I am really surprised the board allow this discrimination to continue to occur.

In reality, that may not change the make-up of who ends up in these classes. They are going to need to combine all 3 years of Ohlone MI graduates at Jordan just to fill one class of the 24 students needed. Unless they are willing to run with smaller classes, which again would be against Jordan elective policy.


7 people like this
Posted by Schmuckfest
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 12, 2015 at 10:50 am

Is the school board claiming took ow what is. Est for us, and them forcing it on us??

This Mandarin thing is a TREND, like the Japanese language thing of twenty years ago!


3 people like this
Posted by local yokel
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 12, 2015 at 5:05 pm

Grace Mah has wanted MI in middle school for a long time, but Skelly was against it. Now she's got a friendly listener in Dr. McGee. I'm surprised that the board is in favor of this because if they look at SI in middle school, it's been a disaster. In fact it got so bad that a few years ago the program was canceled for a year in order to fix it. Most SI kids coming out of Escondido don't want to be in SI in 6th grade because they are sick of the same 25 kids they've been in class with for 6 years. They want to be in class with other kids. No surprise there. In general, the foreign language instruction is not very effective in the middle schools. A lot of kids slog through two years of middle school Spanish (7th and 8th grade) only to find out they aren't prepared for Spanish 2 at the high schools.


2 people like this
Posted by choice or what 2?
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 12, 2015 at 6:07 pm

I also agree with comments of choice or what:::
"I do have a problem with priority given to the 10 students that graduate each year from Ohlone MI for the any class. There should be no preference given to any student for these slots. The Ohlone MI students may avoid the "test in" aspect to the class but should be given the same priority as other students able to "test in".

As a family that never got into regular Ohlone or MI Ohlone, I feel that the rest of us should get priority, if there is priority over Ohlone lottery winners. My child is very good at languages, took one year privately of Chinese. It became to expensive for me to continue, but am very aware of ISTP and the cost families will pay to ensure their child speaks another language. My kids are looking forward to the wheel, not so much interested in taking a foreign language. There was HIGH interest in K-3 in learning a foreign language.!


2 people like this
Posted by Nancy J
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 12, 2015 at 6:13 pm

When I was privileged to live in Norway for almost a year, I had to use the younger generation to help as interpreter with people my age, since the youngsters there all learn English starting in third grade and have to know at least two other languages besides the Two Norwegian languages in order to graduate from High school.

I think it is true that most other countries in the world insist that their children learn how to navigate the entire world and find ways to communicate. It is a shame that we, in showing pride for our language which comes from so many others, fail to prepare our children for what they need in this world in which they will have to know what other cultures are like. My husband and I tutor first graders in Palo Alto and are so impressed with the many ways they try to prepare ALL the children starting school .


3 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 12, 2015 at 8:40 pm

Many commentators complain that MI has been available only to lottery winners (as have some of the other special programs.) Instead of trying to kill off Mandarin Immersion, why not ask has PAUSD not allocated more resources for elementary school foreign language instruction instead of spending $500K on legal fees, a dedicated PR staffer and other expenses? If PAUSD can spend $46 Million on new buildings at Paly, it can afford to expand Foreign Language programs in all schools.


1 person likes this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Feb 12, 2015 at 10:35 pm

In this community, at this time in history, when we have highly overstressed students, and alarming escalation in unhealthy levels of academic competition, I'm somewhat surprised that there are families willing to push this level of sustained and unrelenting complexity on to their kids, but Im very surprised that we have a school board willing to support it.

Why do the elementary choice school kids get preference in getting in to the middle school immersion classes? Shouldn't they have to test in as well? How is that fair? Im really not sure at all that I understand why lucky lottery winners continue to have a right to that privileged status - because they'd like to have that benefit, and so we should give it to them?

Lastly, just curious but why is the district funding language immersion but they are not funding athletics? Isn't physical activity for all, fighting obesity and reducing stress, isn't that at least as important, if not a more pressing concern?

(And also, I wonder if there are any statistics - how many kids benefit from college scholarships or even just favorable consideration for admissions related to sports participation, as compared to those scholarships for extra language education?


3 people like this
Posted by concerned american
a resident of Ohlone School
on Feb 13, 2015 at 6:22 am

[Post removed.]


3 people like this
Posted by concerned american
a resident of Ohlone School
on Feb 13, 2015 at 6:25 am

[Post removed.]


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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