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City Terrace giving kids a window — and language — to the world

Yana Gracile | March 13, 2014

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city terraceStudents at City Terrace Elementary in east Los Angeles learn reading, writing and arithmetic, just like any other student in the LA Unified school district.

Except for one thing: They are learning these subjects in Mandarin.

City Terrace is located in a low-income neighborhood, and the majority of students are Latino. For many of them, English is their second language, after Spanish.

“We’re taking students from our residential neighborhood and giving them an extra opportunity that they normally would not have,” Elaine Fujiu, the school’s principal, told LA School Report. “Not only does it help them academically and help them prepare for the future, but it also gives them high self esteem. It’s a global economy and we are preparing our students for the future.”

City Terrace is one of just three LA Unified elementary schools offering an immersion course in Mandarin, along with Castelar Elementary near downtown and Broadway Elementary in Venice.

Since introducing Mandarin immersion to the kindergarten class in 2007, City Terrace has seen the program explode in popularity.

This year, the school offers the immersion classes at all grade levels, and there a waiting list of students waiting to get in.

Also, the program is expanding for the first time ever beyond the City Terrace campus.

Last year’s graduates are continuing their Mandarin studies at El Sereno Middle School, the only other school in LA Unified offering Mandarin in a dual language program.

Fujiu, who has been City Terrace’s principal for the last five years, does not speak Mandarin, but almost a third of the school’s 450 students are learning it, she said.

A former principal of the school started the program as a way to boost enrollment and to generate more community interest in the school.

So far, the program has paid off in more ways than one. Fujiu said that 90 percent of her students are scoring advanced or proficient in math and in English arts on their statewide tests.

In class, the teacher presents an assignment in Mandarin, then does an extension of the lesson and a review a day or two later in English.

The students themselves, Fujiu says, recognize the importance of learning a second language, especially Mandarin, to compete in the global workplace.

“They know it’s great and special that they’re learning two or three languages,” she said. “They know it’s for their future, and the parents know that it offers a great advantage for their kids. They glow when they talk about it because it’s giving their kids an edge in college and career.”

The immersion program has been successful thanks to the involvement and support of parents who understand that it also takes hard work and dedication at home. Many parents help by raising funds for the school.

Despite its overall success, Fujiu said the program has faced its challenges. The biggest hurdle is finding dedicated and committed teachers who are fluent in both English and Mandarin.

Right now, she has five Mandarin-English speaking teachers and says the district has been very supportive of providing necessary materials and additional personnel.

According to LAUSD officials, the district offers 54 dual language programs, which include 40 in Spanish, 10 in Korean, and the 4 in Mandarin. Last year, the district added 10 multi-language classes and three more are pending for this year.

“We are very proud of the work that’s going on,” Hilda Maldonado, the director of the multi-lingual department at LAUSD told LA School Report.

She added that the multi-lingual immersion programs have had a positive impact not only for students and their academic success, but also for the connection they will have with their local communities and beyond — not to mention what colleges and eventually employers look for in a job candidate.

“By learning a second language, students have a different outlook on the world, in problem solving and cognitive flexibility,” she said. “It gets them to think in two different ways.”


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