First Mandarin Immersion Public Charter School Opening in East Bay

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Yu Ming Charter School, the East Bay’s first Mandarin immersion public charter school, is now holding information sessions and accepting applications for fall 2011 enrollment of kindergartners and first graders.

Located in Alameda County and open to all California residents, Yu Ming fills a huge unmet need and interest for Chinese language instruction in the greater Bay Area. The school will provide a rigorous, comprehensive, and college-preparatory education and teach students from kindergarten to 8th grade to be fully bilingual in Mandarin Chinese and English. Because it is a public charter school, there are no tuition fees. The Alameda County Board of Education unanimously approved Yu Ming’s charter in November 2010.

Gloria Lee, one of the founding parents of Yu Ming Charter School. Photo by Mike Solidum.

“We live in Oakland and searched many years for a public program in our area that would help our kids become bilingual in Mandarin and English,” said Gloria Lee, an Oakland mother, educator, and chair of the Yu Ming Charter School board. “But there just weren’t any. Now that Yu Ming is opening, we are so excited that our kids will have the chance to learn in a Mandarin immersion environment.”

Information sessions are running throughout January and enrollment applications are due Feb. 10. For a schedule and more information, visit the school’s website at www.yumingschool.org.

Yu Ming Charter School is spearheaded by a group of founding families who were struck by the lack of options in the East Bay for public Mandarin immersion education. After researching and visiting similar programs around the country, and recognizing the incredible opportunity that the East Bay’s diversity and ties to Asia offers, they decided it was time to start such a school.

The families petitioned the Alameda County Board of Education during the summer of 2010 for a founding charter to start Yu Ming. The board unanimously granted the charter on November 9, 2010.

A handful of public school districts including Cupertino, San Francisco, Fremont, and Hayward run Mandarin immersion programs offered primarily to residents of those districts. However, as a county-wide charter, Yu Ming is the first public Mandarin immersion program readily accessible to students from multiple cities and districts.

The school hopes to attract a diverse student body, in terms of both ethnicity and socioeconomic status, as an increasing number of parents are recognizing that literacy in Mandarin will give their children a huge boost in their careers, the business world, and in global society. With more than 1 billion speakers, Mandarin Chinese is spoken by almost 1 out of 4 people in the world, and, in written form, read by many more.

Beyond these points, “immersion education has proven benefits beyond bilingualism and for students of all backgrounds,” said Lee. “Exposing children to a second language at an early age stimulates the development of a whole host of critical thinking skills.”

Yu Ming will start classes this August with two classes of kindergartners and two classes of first graders, with roughly half the students as native Mandarin speakers and half as native English speakers. The school uses a two-way dual immersion model, which will enable students to maintain their first language while acquiring a second language. Students learn all of their traditional subjects – math, science, social studies, history – in both languages so that they become fully literate in each language. English speakers help other students learn English, while Mandarin speakers help their classmates learn Mandarin.

Because English is prevalent in the U.S., all kids will have an easier time learning and maintaining English over time. This is a phenomenon of which even immigrant parents who speak exclusively to their children in their home language are well aware: when their kids enter the traditional U.S. public school system, they quickly become reluctant to speak their home language and lose fluency. Therefore in the youngest grades, Yu Ming emphasizes instruction in Mandarin. Over the course of elementary and middle school, the proportion of Mandarin to English instruction becomes more balanced.

Next steps for Yu Ming include outreach to the East Bay’s varied communities to ensure enrollment of a diverse student body; finalizing the school site, which will be in Alameda County; hiring teachers and administrators; and raising the additional funds needed to ensure a well-rounded program for students, not just in academics, but in the arts and sports.

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