San Mateo kids say ‘ni hao’ to magnet program funds

In six years, every student in one San Mateo school will be taught Mandarin Chinese along with the traditional lessons, in one of five new magnet programs beginning this year thanks to more than $7 million in federal funds.

For the second time in just over three years — a tough feat to achieve — the United States Department of Education granted the San Mateo-Foster City School District millions of dollars in funds to kick-start five magnet programs in the district. In 2004, the district received $6.2 million, and this year the grant rose to $7,011,328 over three years.

“It’s a wonderful thing, it brings professional development and teacher training to our schools and provides highly trained teachers, supplies and curriculum to students,” Magnet Program Director Irv Phillips said.

The 2004 grants brought Mandarin elective classes to College Park, communication technology to Horrall Elementary School and music and arts to North Shoreview Montessori School. The new grants will include an International Baccalaureate program at Borel Middle School, Visual and Performing Arts at Horrall and an expansion of Mandarin at College Park. This year, all kindergarten students will have one period of Mandarin a day, adding a grade each year until all students are being trained in the language daily.

With one three-year grant period under the district’s belt, Board President Mark Hudak said it is time to begin evaluating the magnet programs and their impacts on the district.

“Part of this next step is assessing if we achieved our objectives, in both academic diversity and performance,” he said.

That evaluation could help the district compete for what would be an almost unprecedented third set of magnet grants in 2010. In total, 41 districts in 17 states were given grant money this year, and of that group, only 13 were receiving money for the second time.

“Every time you go back and try for funding again, it’s a smaller group that gets funded that second time around,” Phillips said. “The decision is weighted against people who have gotten the funding, so the district will have to go through a process of looking at where we are and what we need to do in the future.”

jgoldman@examiner.com

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