Broadway Elementary Launches Mandarin Immersion Program Despite Challenges

By Susan Wang, Principal of Broadway Elementary School

With much anticipation, Broadway Elementary School (K-6) launched a Mandarin Immersion Program this fall with 44 kindergarten students. As a Los Angeles Unified School District Principal, I have been working with a group of interested parents since fall of 2009 to make this happen. After about 2 months, most students in our immersion program have gotten over the initial shock of not being able to understand one of their teachers for half the day and have adjusted to both the Chinese language and the new routines.

Our program is designed so that students achieve academic proficiency in both English and Mandarin and become bilingual, bi-literate and bicultural. There are currently 2 kindergarten classes and the plan is to add an additional grade level each year until we have reached 6th grade. The ethnic backgrounds of the students in the immersion program are a majority of Caucasian and Asian, with some Latino and African American.

Broadway's Mandarin immersion program implements the 50/50 model utilizing two teachers in two classroom; one teaches English, and the other teaches Mandarin. Students switch rooms mid-day on a daily basis. In the English classroom, the teacher uses District initiatives such as Open Court for English Language Arts and enVision math. In the Mandarin classes, English is not spoken by any adult. Other than Mandarin Language Arts and language development, the teacher teaches California kindergarten content standards in Mandarin. Currently, students are progressing very nicely.

Broadway Elementary School is located one mile from the Pacific Ocean in Venice. It is a school-wide Title I school. The entire student body qualifies for the Federal free lunch program, and more than 40% of the students are English Learners. Until this school year, Broadway had 85% Latino students, 13% African American, and 2% others.

In the process of building this program, we have encountered many challenges. But the “big three” are:

1. There aren't many multiple subject teacher candidates with BCLADs (Bilingual, Cross-cultural, Language, and Academic Development) in Mandarin. Highly qualified teacher candidates for the Mandarin immersion program are hard to come by. We were really lucky to find two wonderful, dedicated teachers this year, but we will need more candidates for future years. I have been talking with universities in Los Angeles to inform them that we will need more credential candidates to obtain their Mandarin BCLADs. As Mandarin becomes more and more in demand, we will need more teachers who are qualified to implement strong programs.

2. It has been challenging finding qualified Mandarin speaking teaching assistants (TAs). The school district requires that all TAs are currently enrolled college or university students. What we are finding is that TA candidates either don't speak Mandarin or are not enrolled in college. Some Chinese speakers are interested, but are not qualified to work with children in a classroom setting.

3. There is a lack of published materials. It takes the Chinese teacher a lot of planning time to create Chinese materials for content subjects. I try to solve this problem by allowing the kindergarten teachers to use some of the grade level planning time for their own material making. However, my immersion teachers work long, long hours.

It is important to share Broadway Elementary’s challenges and experiences with others who are also working on building immersion programs and to members in the field of Chinese teaching and learning in the United States. We all need to work together to come up with solutions to address the issues that we have faced and will continue to face in implementing strong Mandarin programs for our students.

Currently, Broadway Elementary is gearing up for the first school tour of the Mandarin Immersion classrooms where prospective families will be invited to see the program in action. Our goal is to recruit two additional classes and two teachers for the 2011 school year.

The Mandarin immersion program brought an ethnic diversity that the school has never had in its history, as well as strong parent participation. There are parent volunteers in the immersion classes daily and a booster club is forming (an organization that is formed to contribute money). We hope to keep this momentum of parent involvement growing across the entire school. It is the collaboration of everyone, from parents to teachers, to administrators, to all the organizations that contribute to the teaching and learning of Chinese language and culture that will enable us to succeed.

For more information about Broadway Elementary School and its immersion program, please visit the school's website.