Nice to see some success stories —
Article by Jessica Kwong for San Francisco Chronicle, May 30, 2011:
Clutching an oversize children’s book, the teacher made her way through a couple dozen squealing second-graders as they sat on the floor for one of their favorite weekly activities, story time.
“Tres, dos, uno … silencio por favor,” she said, bringing a finger to her lips.
The students hushed on cue.
“You may not know the words, but it’s OK,” Claudia Portillo continued, opening the Spanish-language version of Eric Carle’s “The Very Busy Spider.” “When you see the pictures, you will figure a lot of them out.”
She used hand gestures to illustrate “tejer,” meaning spin, and “hilo,” meaning thread. The students repeated.
This, and every K-8 class at St. Philip School in Noe Valley, is getting instruction in a foreign language, a subject that more and more parents of young pupils are demanding, whether it’s part of a before, during or after-school program.
Many of the parents, who never had such an opportunity when they were growing up, believe their kids will benefit from an earlier introduction to a second language.
In 2007, parents gave after-school Spanish classes “very positive feedback,” said St. Philip’s Principal Remy Everett. So she integrated it into the regular school day the following year. Each class now gets one hour of instruction per week.
The classes have relied on music and art exercises to keep students excited, but Everett said the goal for next year is to give elementary classes more textbook-based instruction.
“It’s a work in progress,” she said. “But we are moving in that direction, because I think the kids are ready to learn more.”
St. Philip School hired a specialist, Globalanguages, which has seen increasing demand for its services in private schools. A founder of the 5-year-old San Francisco firm, Lori Frediani, said it currently has 20 school partnerships.
Her company has had a harder time winning contracts in public elementary schools, where language classes are rare and are typically offered outside of the school day through the PTA.
“In the last two years, money has been an issue,” Frediani said. “Before, a lot of parents wanted language classes three times a week; now they’re doing it once or twice a week.”
In the San Francisco Unified School District, as in many other public districts, studying a foreign language is not required before high school. But many elementary school students in the city are exposed to second languages – sometimes English, sometimes Spanish or Mandarin – through immersion programs.
Despite $113 million in budget cuts over the past two years, those programs have been maintained, district spokeswoman Gentle Blythe said.
“San Francisco has a long tradition of supporting students in being bicultural and bi-literate,” she said. “The board four years ago passed a policy intent on moving toward having every student graduate bi-literate.”
The district has 21 immersion programs, in which 80 percent of instruction at the kindergarten level is done in the foreign language. English is added until it makes up half of the instruction by fifth grade.
The percentage of San Francisco kindergarten applications that listed a school’s language-immersion program as a first choice jumped from 25 percent in 2004 to 39 percent this year, Blythe said.
More and more parents are realizing that “children through age 8 have a language acquisition window where they can learn naturally,” said Michael Fee, executive director of Lango, another Bay Area-based foreign language business.
Lango’s Bay Area enrollment has grown 20 percent per year since it launched in 2007, Fee said.
In many cases, kids are studying languages away from the school campus. On a recent morning, 3-year-old Mikaela Ulloa took Lango’s Mandarin Tot and Parent class at a studio space in San Francisco.
Getting started before formal school instruction has been a priority for Mikaela’s father, 40-year-old Braulio Ulloa, 40. This was his second session with his daughter, and he’s pleased with her progress.
Upon hearing the teacher say “lü se,” meaning green, Mikaela gleefully jumped into a green-colored hoop. At “Ji zhang!” she gave a high-five.
Ulloa, who was born in Colombia, said, “She already speaks Spanish at home, at school she speaks English, and I’m planning to take her to a Chinese immersion school. The earlier the better is the way I see it.”