Monday, October 8, 2007

Alice Fong Yu Alternative School

Reviewed by Kate

You should consider this school if you're looking for a place with:
an established Chinese language immersion program; a K–8 program; rigorous academics; high test scores (some of the best in the district); enriching before- and after-school program; late start time; and a smart, motivated principal.

The Facts
Web site:
School tours: Tuesdays and Thursdays at 9:30 a.m., no appointment necessary
Location: 1541 12th Ave. at Lawton, Inner Sunset
Grades: K–8
Start time: 9:30 a.m.
Kindergarten size: 60 students, three classes of 20 children
Playground: Expansive blacktop area surrounded by school buildings so it feels safe and secure. It's courtyard-like.
Before- and after-school program: Growth & Learning Opportunities (GLO)
Language: Chinese immersion (instruction primarily in Cantonese K–3 with an increase in English 4–5. By 5th grade children are fluent. Mandarin is introduced in junior high)
Highlights: Ceramics, music, gardening, Chinese cultural events and festivals, 8th graders have opportunity to travel to China, competitive basketball in junior high, energetic P.E. instructor

Kate's impressions
My first impression: This school is clean, tidy, and organized. The school grounds are immaculate, the classrooms are uncluttered, the organic garden is manicured, the parent tours run seamlessly, the teachers are focused, even the kids seem to walk in straight lines. I was instantly impressed and loved everything about this systematic school. Why? I'm still trying to sort that out but I think it's because everything in my own life is a complete mess. You should see the mounds of paper on my desk at work or open one of the closets in my house (Careful! A bunch of junk will probably fall out on you). My calendar is cluttered with too many appointments, meetings, and activities, and my things to do list is an overwhelming 10 pages long. While walking around this school I felt calm and at ease—I never feel this way. And I think my daughter would do well in this neat environment. She's strangely tidy herself. She folds her clothes, makes her bed, picks up her toys—and gets mad at me when our house is in disarray. She likes structure and routine. She likes to eat the same thing for breakfast and for lunch and for dinner and to go to the same parks and museums. She would feel comfortable here.

The Chinese immersion component to this school is an even more important factor to consider. The entire student body is in the immersion program. Ninety percent of the kindergarten instruction is in Cantonese—with only 10 percent in English. The amount of English increases each year and then Mandarin is introduced in middle school. By fifth grade, most students are fluent in Cantonese and English. What an opportunity? You definitely can't get this experience in Walnut Creek!

I love the immersion aspect and I'm comfortable sending my child to a Chinese school even though my husband I don't speak the language (we're both Caucasian with English as our first language; I also speak French and he speaks Spanish). The kindergarten class was fascinating. The teachers were speaking loudly to their groups of 20 kids, using lots of facial expressions and moving their hands all over the place. They were working hard to keep the kids engaged. The kids were sitting attentively. The children seem to understand a lot of what their teachers were saying but they weren't speaking Chinese. They would respond to their teachers in English. Apparently, most kids don't actually start speaking Chinese until first grade.

I will definitely consider this as a top pick. My only concern is the lack of emphasis on the arts—because my daughter loves to paint and draw and dance and sing. She always tells me she wants to be a ballerina who paints when she grows up—not a businesswoman making serious deals with companies in China. Hmmm...


  1. Hi, small thing but AFY is in the inner Sunset, not the inner Richmond. Thanks for doing this - I think a lot of parents will find it helpful.

  2. I also checked out AFY, and the school exceeded my expectations. The teachers were very energetic and the kindergarten kids seemed to be following along. I agree that the school has a warm feel to it, even on a cold, foggy summer day. AFY has a very academic feel to it, and the older students were engaged in their classes. It seems like most parents have the same initial concerns about the immersion programs, but the kids seem like they figure it out and the school’s test scores are some of the highest in the district.
    However, I'm pretty discouraged by my chances of actually getting my kid in the program. With only 60 spots and over 200 first choice applications last year, the odds are not good.

  3. I know a parent who pulled their child from AFY because the school's focus was too narrow, and parents do not care about the arts AT ALL.

    This parent said the social climate at this school was very poor and also very segregated. He stated that his child was not invited to birthday parties(child is white) and the only other child not invited in the class was a African American child. His comments illustrated to me how school scores, and all the bells and whistles do not necessarily make a good school.I took it off my list.

  4. Wait, I though the lottery was to prevent segregation? You mean Alice Fing Yu is mostly Asian? How can that be? So what about schools in the Western Addition? And Hunters Point? If those schools are not diverse and inclusive then how come a few are like Grattan and Rooftop? Something doesn't seem fair about least private schools try and gain some diversity. How come we can't find out how this lottery works for real anyway? Seems so communist to me...

  5. Kate,

    I like AFY too. I did not see many caucasian kids at AFY. Not one of the more diverse schools. In one of the K classes maybe I counted 2-3. Does that concern you at all when choosing the school? How do you think Alice would feel about that over 8 years? Also, it did not have the fun, nuturing feel some of the other schools had. Did you notice that if so did it make you wonder if it lacked fun?

  6. My son (who is Caucasian) attends AFY and has never experienced segregation of any kind. Quite the contrary, he has many friends, all of a spectrum of races and backgrounds.

    I cannot say enough good things about this school. The immersion component is incredible. Any parent that has the opportunity to give their child the gift of fluidity in a second (or in my son's case) third language should jump on it.

  7. My daughter is in the 4th grade of Alice Fong Yu. I'd say it's 60 to 70 percent asian and the rest are black, white, latino, etc. My daughter is half asian, half black, and has not experienced any racism yet. I am friends with parents of kids who are other races, including caucasisan. I have not heard from them any complaints. This school was the best decision for my daughter. The school gives it's students starting from Kindergarden more homework than other schools. I know my daughter will have an advantage over other kids when she enters high school since she is used to really hard homework and high academic expectations from the school. She already wows the Chinese people she encounters since she speaks Cantonese with absolutely no accent. I've been told that once you master Cantonese, Mandarin is not too hard to learn since it's less difficult than Cantonese. On top of that, I've been told by the after school program staff who worked at other schools that Alice Fong Yu kids in general are much better behaved than kids at the other schools. I did hear from parents whose kids went on to high school that the kids stated that high school is easier than middle school at Alice Fong Yu. Anyways, that's my experience with this school.

  8. can a child get into this school? From what I heard, it's virtually impossible.

  9. school focus is narrow: pass the test instead of learn to think. The principal is an absolute disgrace. She cares more about the reputation of the school than the kids' safety and well being. There's an incident with a faculty inappropriately touching a student and she tries to hide it instead of protect the student. Absolutely sickens me to my stomach.

  10. I've heard that you can buy your way into Alice Fong Yu. Or if you know someone in the school district, you can move up in the 'priority list'. This is probably why it's virtually impossible for regular joes without money or connection to get in. I wish they would just make it a private school. At least it will be more fair.

  11. Hi, on November 5, someone left a post about "a faculty inappropriately touching a student" and that the principal "tries to hide it instead of protect the student." I am seriously considering putting AFY as my top choice school, but I have three girls who will eventually go there (if we get in) and this is a hugely disconcerting claim! Can anyone provide a link to a newspaper article about this story? I am a little considered this a bogus claim. If it is not, it will deeply affect my decision to apply there. Thanks.

    1. this was many years ago but if your child is in the school, be careful, I'm 16 went to the school and it did happen, you may not be able to find an article because they hide everything.

  12. Thanx Kate for sharing your insights and feelings!
    As an active parent at Alice Fong Yu School since 2000, parents do care about the arts. The school offers afterschool traditional arts programs such as Chinese folk dance, Chinese percussion and guzheng (Chinese zither). Every year, we also have a number of students who apply to the School of the Arts. I know at least three of my daughter's classmates who will audition for voice performance or visual arts.
    To parents who are concern about the minority of non-Chinese students fitting in, our elected student president is Ian Eigl, a white male.

  13. My son is a white 1st grader at AFY and loves it. No complaints or regrets here and we realize how lucky we were to get into AFY.

  14. hey i was google searching my name rite and i found this so ill right my thoughts about the school. In my opinion ms szeto is a bit 2 controlling and most of the teachers over react, jay is a one of the few good counselors, and lots of teachers in my opinion are a bit bias. On regards of the election, it was not as clean cut as it seems...

  15. Look at how many kids are non-asian in kindergarten, and then again in 5th grade. where do they go? And why do so many kids whose parents were on the board or committees pull their kids out?

  16. I am personally a student of Alice Fong Yu and i must say i enjoy being in this school, because this school really prepared me with the education i needed for high school and also while i was in the school the class was so together that none of us really made fun of each other.

  17. To revisit the question of non-Chinese students fitting in Alice Fong Yu school, Ian Eigl, a white student was elected president over a Chinese American female student.
    The 8th grade class has 59 students. 37 are female students and 22 male. Over 80% of the 59 students or 46.5 students are Chinese or Asian. This means if Ian received all of the male student votes, he had to get some of the Chinese American female student votes which is the dominantracial and gender student profile of this 8th grade class. Ian Eigl is entitled to his opinions. But opinions are just opinions. I am stating the facts.

  18. To know more about Alice Fong Yu School, I encourage the San Francisco community to come to the free public screening of "Speaking in Tongues," a film by Marcia Jarmel and Ken Schneider who are also parents at Alice Fong Yu School. The film focuses on the lives of four families who are involved in public language immersion schools in San Francisco.
    The film also had several screemings at the San Francisco International Film Festival.
    Saturday morning 10:30 AM May 9 at the Main Library.

  19. Just wanted to clarify how to get into Alice Fong Yu. I'm just a regular joe, no political connections, no payoffs, and I was lucky that my child got accepted (our first choice).

    For students starting August 2011, here's how it works:

    1) You have to apply on-time and list Alice Fong Yu as one of your choices.
    2) Every applicant (yes, even sibilings) who lists Alice Fong Yu will be tested for their proficiency in English and Cantonese at the Education Placement Center at 555 Franklin.
    3) Based on the results of your child's testing, they will be grouped into 1 of 3 groups: English proficient, bilingual (English and Cantonese proficient), and everything else.
    4) When the District runs the "lottery", there are 66 spots, 22 spots for each language group.
    5) Siblings fill the spots first, then applicants from lower performing census tracts, and then the lotto is run.

    In summary, yes, it's difficult to get in. But if you look at historical data and the number of applicants for each school, Clarendon is even harder.