On Tuesday night, the San Ramon Valley Unified School District's Board of Education unanimously approved the inclusion of a Chinese dual immersion program at Quail Run Elementary School. Beginning this fall, the kindergarten class will teach students in Mandarin and English.
Superintendent Steven Enoch said many parents have expressed interest in the program, which would have space for 28 students, and believes it will be very successful.
"I know for a fact that these programs, in other districts, have been very, very well received," he said.
To prepare for this program, Enoch, Assistant Superintendent Christine Williams, Quail Run Principal Carol Loflin and Toni Taylor, director of categorical programs for GATE, visited Bay Area schools with similar programs and traveled to China to interview teachers, students and administrators.
The resulting curriculum will have students learning Mandarin vocabulary and well as math, social studies and science in a 50 percent English, 50 percent Mandarin model. While the program will begin in the kindergarten classroom, the district plans to add one grade level per year as students matriculate, until dual immersion spans through fifth grade.
"That cadre of students will be bilingual and move onto middle school with the goal of moving on to pass the AP Mandarin test in high school," said Loflin.
Amid concerns of overcrowding, Enoch said the immersion class would have no impact on the already at-capacity Dougherty Valley elementary schools.
"This is not a magnet program in the sense of bringing in students. Right now because of Dougherty Valley being so impacted, I don't see us having any sort of magnet program that draws students from other parts of the district. We've very sensitive to enrollment issues," he said.
While the district may replicate the immersion program at other schools in a few years, next year's class will only be available to students in the Quail Run area. Many of those students are Asian, Enoch said.
About 24 percent of the district's students are Asian, according to SRVUSD demographics. These figures do not specify which Asian cultures students belong to.
"It is our fasted growing minority population in the district, and most are in the Dougherty Valley," he said. " Registration has been quite intense, so we're quite confident in easily filling up the kindergarten classroom."
A lottery system will be put into place if more students in the area sign up than the allotted space allows.
The district has chosen Catherina Chen, a first grade teacher at Quail Run, to run the program and is also looking to hire a Chinese para-educator, or teacher's aide.
"Not only would the teacher be a partner in support of what the classroom teacher is doing, but they would offer an after school program that would expand to other grade levels," Williams said.
Because the district is struggling with securing a Visa for the exchange teacher, Williams proposed opening the position to members of the Chinese community. At $10,000, the cost of the para-educator, who would live with a host family, will be generated through site funds and the after-school enrichment program.
"One reason we might look at a Chinese program is because the Chinese government helps fund (the exchange) program," said Enoch. "It's certainly not a factor that will make or break this program."
SRVUSD estimates that the estimated cost of start-up materials for the dual immersion program is between $5 and 7,000.