Language learners may be muzzled

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Elementary school children in San Francisco studying Mandarin Chinese may want to learn the phrase, “Where is my school?”

The students in the inaugural Mandarin immersion at two San Francisco Unified School District campuses are nearing graduation from elementary schools with an uncertainty of where they will go to middle school.

The first Mandarin-immersion program was set up in 2006 at Starr King Elementary School in Potrero Hill. There are now hundreds of students in the Mandarin program there and at Jose Ortega Elementary.

An immersion program is aimed at creating proficiency in the target language. For instance, at Starr King, kindergartners receive 90 percent of their instruction in Mandarin and 10 percent in English. The amount changes until fourth grade, when 50 percent happens in each language.

“The district always promised they would see this immersion through high school,” parent Marie Ciepiela said.

Ciepiela has two children in the immersion program at Starr King — one in fourth grade and the other in second grade — and she said she enrolled them for an opportunity to learn a second language.

But, if the district doesn’t follow through with its plans to expand the program to middle schools, she’s not sure where they will go.

“It’s sensitive, the talk, of where it’s going to go,” she said.

District officials haven’t set out what the Mandarin immersion could potentially look like at the middle school level, but said it’s contingent on the school feeder patterns that are still in draft form, according to Kevin Chávez, the dual immersion and special-education supervisor for the district.

Where the children end up for middle school depends on the so-called feeder patterns, which were released in draft form in mid-August and are a part of the new school assignment process.

According to district documents, the two elementary schools with Mandarin immersions — Jose Ortega and Starr King — feed to Aptos and Horace Mann middle schools, respectively, neither of which have a Mandarin program.

Currently, district documents say “new” programs would be created at Aptos and Horace Mann, but Scott Olson, Mandarin Immersion Parent Council vice president and parent of two at Ortega, said he hopes the promise to continue the program will be fulfilled.

akoskey@sfexaminer.com

Talking the talk

The San Francisco Unified School District offers programs to teach children languages.

6 Middle schools that offer language immersion

38 Elementary schools that offer language immersion

6 Languages offered by San Francisco schools, with varying intensities

9 Middle schools currently without language pathways

Source: San Francisco Unified School District

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