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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, August 30, 2002

Parents want children immersed in Chinese Parents want children immersed in Chinese (August 30, 2002)

Schools asked to add language program by 2003

by Faiza Hasan

A group of Palo Alto parents, citing a rise in the local Asian population, is asking the school district to add a Mandarin Chinese immersion program in schools.

"About 20 percent of students of this school district are Asian, so the demographics are there and the need is there," said Alexis Hamilton, a local parent and Chinese immersion supporter. "We need the language to prepare for the future. If we want our kids to be able to talk to the world, they have to know at least one other language."

Hamilton was one of a roomful of supporters at Tuesday's school board meeting, trying to explain the need for a Chinese program. Parents quoted World Bank predictions about the rapid growth of the Chinese economy and the importance of Chinese language in future business dealings. They also said that as Chinese speakers make up one-fifth of the world's population, not to mention a large portion of the Bay Area's population, it made sense for their kids to learn Chinese.

But the group's momentum was slowed when the school board decided to delay discussion on the program until November.

"We already have a choice policy," said John Barton, president of the Palo Alto school board. "We have about five separate language immersion ideas. The choice policy is great when something comes along every four or five years. But now we need the guidelines to flush them out so this scenario is workable."

Overwhelmed by the demand for choice programs, the district has decided to come up with a list of guidelines that will help it determine the viability of future programs before the board is asked to approve specific ones.

Barton said it would only be fair to hold off all discussions until the district staff gets its views on the table. "It would be unwise and unfair to go ahead with discussions," said Barton. "because the district can decide in November that it won't work."

The guidelines will look at a program's practicality, its financial viability, its school location and any effect it might have on choice programs already in place. The guidelines will also look staff development and teaching materials needed for the programs.

"We have been trying to come up with a set of criteria that can be applied to any program," said Superintendent Mary Frances Callan. "One factor is cost neutrality. We wanted to first establish the criteria to see if individual programs are costly and if they apply only to specific groups of students."

That does not bode well for parents' hopes to start a Chinese immersion program by 2003.

"We are disappointed," said Grace Mah, who is the founding member of Palo Alto Chinese Education. "We will speak to board members and see if they can help motivate the district."

But Hamilton said parents are still committed to the program. "We will do anything to make sure that it happens in 2003," she said.

Mah wants her 4-year-old son, who at the moment goes to a private bilingual school in Los Altos, to be able to go to school in Palo Alto. She said it would be easy to pattern the program after the existing Spanish immersion program. She said the costs would be the same as running a normal classroom and that parents would be able to raise enough money to cover at least some of the start-up costs.

"The issue are solvable," said Mah. "The location is the main decision that the district will be making. The Cupertino school district is going into grade four with their Mandarin immersion program and have five years of books and training. They (PAUSD) could share or use the same curriculum and books. Getting the teachers might be a challenge, but there are three or four different private language programs and after school programs that they could get teachers from."

Associate Superintendent Cynthia Pino told the board that she had met with people from the Cupertino school district. "They didn't say that it was either cost or time neutral," she said. "It was a big undertaking.

"The Cupertino district recommended that we spend time planning it out," said Pino. "They started quick and in retrospect wished they had more time." E-mail Faiza Hasan at [email protected]


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