The Los Altos School District elementary schools will offer a Mandarin-immersion after-school program on each campus next year.
The Los Altos Chinese School currently serves approximately 150 students after school at Hillview Community Center, but parents are responsible for figuring out how to get their children from school to the Chinese School.
With Hillview closing for construction imminently, the Los Altos Chinese School had to find a new site for its after-school program.
“Parents were begging us, ‘Please, please, move close to the school,’” said Jane Bai, the school’s principal.
So, the Chinese School is doing one better. It’s moving to the schools themselves and greatly expanding the program. School administrators plan to offer one class for each grade at each school, with a maximum of 12 students per class. If all of the classes fill, the Chinese School could be serving close to 600 students next year.
“We’re always on the lookout for top-notch programs to bring to our kids,” said district Superintendent Jeffrey Baier. “They had been asking about space in our school sites and we sat down with (Bai) and it unfolded into offering this at each of our sites.”
Laurel Anderson is one of the parents who will benefit from the after-school program being moved to her son’s elementary school. Anderson’s son, a first-grader at Almond School, has been attending the after-school program for the past two and a half years.
“I have always wanted to raise my children bilingually, but I’m a native English speaker and I married a native English speaker, so I was trying to figure out a good way to do that,” she said.
When Anderson moved to California, she thought she would enroll her child in a Spanish-speaking program, but when she looked at the options for what was offered in a convenient location and for the right price, the Los Altos Chinese School won out. Logistics made a difference for her, and she’s guessing that making language immersion logistically easier for families will result in more parents enrolling their kids in the program.
“It makes it more realistic, doable, to be able to have an immersive experience,” she said.
Now, Anderson’s son’s Mandarin level far exceeds her own. But the most important part of the program, according to Bai, is not learning the language. It’s helping kids learn cultural nuance, social skills and global competencies. Anderson said she’s really excited that the after-school program is incorporating more play into the program, in addition to the classic teacher-led learning.
“I absolutely want my children to be literate and write and read characters, but if they can’t have a conversation, what good is it?” Anderson said.
Students arrive between 2:30 and 3 p.m., and the program kicks off with a traditional, rigorous, teacher-led lesson on Mandarin. The lesson is a hallmark of the Chinese educational model, so Bai said it serves the dual purpose of both teaching students Mandarin and teaching students how to be comfortable in a different cultural setting. Then, after recess, the students move on to inquiry-based learning like plays and games, until they’re picked up by 6 p.m.
The after-school program costs families $630 per month, and registration is open for the 2019-2020 school year through May 3. District students will receive enrollment priority.
To register and for more information, visit after.losaltoschinese.school.