SF schools approve teaching in Mandarin

San Francisco school children could soon have more opportunities to learn a language other than English in elementary school under a pilot program approved Tuesday night.

A resolution approved unanimously by the San Francisco Unified School District board Tuesday asked the district to prepare a pilot program offering Mandarin language instruction at elementary schools that feed into middle schools that offer Mandarin.

Unlike existing immersion programs, that offer all daily instruction in the target language, this program would offer daily classes in the language in addition to normal daily classes conducted in English, according to the district.

If it is found to be feasible, the pilot program would be implemented by the 2018-2019 school year, with other languages to follow district-wide if it is considered a success.

The program could also help increase enrollment at schools now considered under-enrolled. Language immersion programs are hugely popular with parents in a district where more than half of all students come from households where a language other than English is spoken, according to district officials.

The resolution calls for the new program to be tested at schools with a range of demographic profiles, including those considered under-enrolled.

“Introducing a second language at an early age is not only a popular choice among so many of our district parents, it is also supported by research that has demonstrated how learning a second language can benefit children’s overall cognitive development,” said Board member Rachel Norton, who co-authored the resolution along with Board member Sandra Lee Fewer.

“We want our students to graduate with the ability to navigate and engage in the more global, inclusive and connected 21st century society, which includes being multilingual and the ability to connect across race, culture and language,” Fewer said today.

In a blog post today, Norton said a group of teachers and parents from biliteracy programs spoke at last night’s meeting to draw attention to the additional demands made on teachers who need to assess students in two languages. A petition signed by nearly 90 teachers was submitted to the board asking for an additional 21 hours of compensation each year to address the extra workload, Norton said.