Several years ago, when we began to think about preschools for our son, we searched desperately for an option that would allow him to continue speaking Mandarin, as he did at his home-based daycare and at home with his dad. We knew that once he started in an all-English school it would be much harder to keep up his Chinese or make him speak it at home. At that time, there was really only one option in the East Bay, which turned out to not be a good fit for our family. In the time between when we started our search and he started preschool, two more Chinese schools opened up, both within an easy bike ride or walk from our house. He is now thriving in a Mandarin immersion Kindergarten class, and we hope his little sister will start at the same school in a couple of years.
We feel so fortunate to live in an area where there is a demand for Chinese immersion, and where parents can now choose from several options. Unfortunately, unlike San Francisco (or elsewherearound the country), Berkeley has not yet instituted Mandarin immersion classrooms in the public schools, so parents must choose from private schools, all of which except one use the Montessori method. To help out parents who may be in the same boat we were in a few years ago, I thought I would give a quick run-down of the Chinese-language options at local East Bay schools:
– Shu Ren International School, in Berkeley: Opened in 2008, now has Pre-K through 2nd grade and will add a grade each year through 8th. Shu Ren is one of the few schools in the world to use Mandarin to implement the International Baccalaureate Organization’s curriculum framework, which is child-led, globally-focused, and transdisciplinary. Pre-K is 100% Mandarin immersion, which switches to 80% Mandarin in Kindergarten as they introduce English class one hour a day (the rest of the day is full Mandarin immersion). By middle school, teaching will be 50/50 English/Chinese. The school’s website is here; they also offer after school classes and Mandarin immersion summer camp. Read reviews of the school from Berkeley Parents Network. A recent article in East Bay Express gives a nice picture of how the immersion classroom works at Shu Ren.
– Global Montessori International School, in Berkeley: Also opened in 2008 with Chinese/Japanese/English immersion in a Montessori setting, though now it seems to only offer Chinese/English immersion, for pre-school and elementary students. It is located next to the UC Berkeley campus in a beautiful, brightly decorated space. The school website is here and reviews are here.
– American International Montessori School, in Berkeley: Ernie Mahr, one of the founders of the Global Montessori International School left soon after its opening to launch his own school using the Chinese/Japanese/English three-way immersion model, also in a Montessori classroom. Like Global Montessori, AIMS offers preschool through elementary classes. The school website is here and reviews are here.
– Pacific Rim International School, in Emeryville: Founded in 1989, PRINTS is the oldest of the Chinese immersion schools in the East Bay. The model is similar to that of AIMS in that it is also a Montessori classroom with Chinese and Japanese immersion. (Ernie Mahr, the head of AIMS, previously worked at PRINTS.) The school website is here and reviews are here.
– CCEA New Sprouts Chinese school in Oakland offers mommy and me classes for toddlers and language classes for pre-schoolers. Their website is here.
The San Francisco-based Mandarin Immersion Parents Council has compiled a list of Mandarin schools in the greater Bay Area, as has the Northern California chapter of Families with Children from China.