Thursday, November 19, 2009

Hot topic: De Avila Elementary

This from an SF K Files reader:
I am curious to see what the opinions are of the potential mom's and dad's about this school. I am a parent at the school and love it. What gives, no chatter about the newest public school?


  1. I would think this place would be super popular w/people on the west side of town looking for language programs.

  2. I am hoping to tour next month as I live nearby. One concern I have is the challenge of building out a new school in the current economic environment.

  3. Tell us what it's been like! I really wanted to get my kid in last year, but wasn't able to do so. I'd love to hear details about your experience.

  4. Let's also be clear about the name. The school is now known as "The Chinese Immersion School at De Avila" and not as "De Avila Elementary" as the Hot Topic title suggests. I say this so that everyone understands that it is a brand new Chinese immersion language program which is housed in the lovely William De Avila campus.

  5. Also, it is important to note the correct name of the school, as I just turned in my application to EPC, and the school is listed as Chinese Immersion School and not as De Avila on their forms. We put it as our first choice, our fingers are crossed!

  6. I am glad that the SFUSD has reopened De Avila to be used as an elementary school. However, I wish that there had been discussion with the larger community as to the need for an immersion program versus a General Education program. Many folks in this neighborhood find it challenging to get into many of the other schools that are in our neighborhood, like Grattan and McKinley (we won't even talk about Rooftop or Clarendon), and many of these folks are interested in a general ed program. Besides the Chinese Immersion school we also have the Lycee two blocks away, with lots of people in cars dropping off and picking up kids, which makes it rather unsafe to walk around. We also have the Urban School nearby, a private High School. We have lots of people driving through the neighborhood, and not many from the neighborhood, attending these schools. Maybe there is a large need for more Chinese Immersion schools, I don't know, but I do wish there had been some kind of transparent decision-making process. Instead the decsion was made after the applications were due last year, so the SFUSD gives the impression that it was very last minute.

  7. For the record, there are families from the neighborhood that attend CIS, and more have come to visit on the school tours.

  8. I'm curious why people would choose Cantonese. I understand that ELLs in native Cantonese families would choose the school but why would native English speaking families not rather have their kids learning Mandarin which is expected to be this generation's global language?

  9. Also, why not have the school be located near native Chinese populations (ie: Inner Richmond or Chinatown) as a neighborhood school rather then the Haight, which might be better served by a new GE school instead?

  10. SFUSD does not have "neighborhood" schools, it is a lottery. I have friends who listed Lafayette as their first choice, and they live two blocks away, and they did not get it. No one in SF is entitled to their neighborhood school. And the ignorance of someone to state that they should put a Chinese school in a Chinese neighborhood is embarrassing! What! Chinese people can't live in the Haight!? And white people can't want to have their children learn Chinese/Cantonese!? Is this the NIMBY attitude, or what?

  11. Starr King's Mandarin Program has mostly middle class white families enrolled...and it is located in Portrero Hill. I didn't hear anyone complaining when they opened that program up in that neighborhood, which is not a "Chinese" neighborhood.

  12. William De Avila was a neighborhood school that was closed over four years ago due to low enrollment and extremely poor test scores. (if you google it, you will read some frightening articles about the old de Avila).

    A new school, with a new program, that is thriving, can only add to the neighborhood, expanding it's community and bringing more business to the stores in the neighborhood. Why is that a bad thing?

  13. There is a parent group working with the District to open a French immersion school, and one that began this year to open an Italian immersion school.
    To get involved with them, join the SF_AME (San Francisco Advocates for Multilingual Excellence) list at
    If you want an immersion school, MAKE IT HAPPEN. Don't just whine that it doesn't exist.
    The District is underfunded and trying, but parents have to get involved. They're not going to open an immersion school for a new language without knowing there's parent interest.
    I'm annoyed with people who just sit back and complain without getting involved to help make things happen. You want a German immersion school? Fine. Get a group of parents together, make a plan, organize, produce a report to prove to the District that there will be sufficient interest and you can have one.
    But don't just sit back and expect it all to come to you, and then complain because it didn't happen.

  14. SFUSD opened another Chinese immersion school due to the high demand for Alice Fong Yu and West Portal's Chinese immersion programs.

    At the same time, there are 1,000 Cantonese speaking families in our school district, and the district wanted to support them by offering two-way immersion.

    I am proud that the district was paying attention and opened another school where there is a high demand.

    I agree with Beth, if you want something, you need to make an effort to ask for it, and not sit around and complain and criticize others.

  15. I don't know that English is THAT easy to learn. The vocabulary is vast, there are an enormous number of puzzling puns, metaphors and aphorisms, the spelling and pronunciation are bizarre and non-phonetic, and there are multiple ways to construct most sentences. I'm not sure why it would be any easier for a Mandarin or Cantoese speaker to learn English than for an English speaker to learn Mandarin or Cantonese. Perhaps a Mandarin or Cantonese speaker could enlighten me?

    And again, maybe somebody could correct me, but what I remember from history is that language follows the money. I don't think it's a coincidence that English is the language of business in a world where the British and American empires have dominated the globe for the past two centuries. China's rising and the U.S. is in decline. If China calls its loans, well . . . Anglophone children who learn Chinese will have nothing but an advantage.

    I'm glad that they've reopened DeAvila as a Chinese immersion school. The parent community is energized and active and the principal is impressive. We chose not to attend because I wanted more of a sense of understanding my kid's day-to-day work, but I think it's a real asset to the neighborhood. I would like to also see another general ed or a European language acquisition strand in our neighborhood.

  16. With all these new immersion programs cropping up (which I think is a wonderful thing for many families) how much support is there at the middle school level?

    I know that there are currently some middle schools with Spanish Immersion strands, but what about Chinese? The reason I ask is because going this route seems to require quite a bit of commitment to the language. It would be nice to continue the language at least through 8th grade, especially in a public school setting...

    Thanks for any info.

  17. "I agree with Beth, if you want something, you need to make an effort to ask for it, and not sit around and complain and criticize others."

    I don't know about the efforts to start a German or Italian immersion program, but the group that is trying to start a French immersion program has been told that "French is a rich" people's language. They are encountering considerable resistance from the SFUSD.

    We already have many Asian language programs in the city. The groups that start them are not held to the same standard to demonstrate that their immersion program is inclusive and not "rich" or privileged.

    I am sorry that you think I am criticizing other people's choices. However, it is the choice of people who want to pursue a European language immersion program who are being excluded, not those who want an Asian language.

    De Avila would have been an excellent location for a German or French program as there are many speakers of those languages in that neighborhood.

    Regarding French American School:
    French American is not a complete immersion school, so I am not surprised that your cousins don't use their French. They probably don't speak it well enough to be confident speakers. (Most Asian 2nd language learners will have the same problem, by the way.)

    I do speak French as a second language. Where do I use it? Frenquently here with European and Quebecois speakers and with a surprising number of African speakers. Knowing french improves English vocabulary. Of course, it is great for travelling in Europe and is spoken in many countries beyond France.

    It is enjoyable to read in French due the large body of international and historical literature written in it. French is also an excellent mathematical and scientific language.

    The grammatical structure of French is such that you can rapidly learn Portuguese, Spanish and Italian from it.

    We did try to get into several of the better Spanish immersion programs in the city, but of course, those are all very oversubscribed.

  18. Two quick points:
    Remarkably, immersion doesn't actually cost the District any more than all-English programs. Bilingual teachers don't get any more money than English only teachers (or at least they haven't in the past.) So bilingual programs don't take away from funding for other programs.
    As for middle school portion, there's a very active Middle School Committee in the Mandarin Immersion Parents Council that's been meeting with the District for a year now to insure that we have a middle school program in place by 2012 when the first class of Mandarin immersion 6th graders arrives at middle school.

  19. Thanks for the info about middle school, Beth.

  20. Bubble mom...I made that post...I am white, and your words still offend me.

  21. "And again, maybe somebody could correct me, but what I remember from history is that language follows the money. I don't think it's a coincidence that English is the language of business in a world where the British and American empires have dominated the globe for the past two centuries. China's rising and the U.S. is in decline. If China calls its loans, well . . . Anglophone children who learn Chinese will have nothing but an advantage.

    Just say it. Hegemony. It's OK. Spit it out. Hegemony. Of course, China, with its rule-of-law and excellent human rights record is the place to be.

    Ha! I was listening on NPR a few days ago about how a mixed race Chinese-African woman was scorned for daring to show her head in public. You can read all about that here:

  22. The irony here is that the SFUSD is wrestling with the very idea of some nod to neighborhood schools, and yet at the same time sites immersion programs in areas where that aren't a predominate number of speakers of that language. Probably no one put up a fuss at Starr King becuase it is predominately poor, African-American community, and no one bothered to ask them. Why not have a Vietnamese immersion program in the Tenderloin - heaven forbid that folks could ENJOY walking their child to their neighobrhood school that offers immersion.

    And the middle schools DON'T accomodate all the immersion languages, and also what about the general ed kids. Do they get shafted?? So there is all this demand on the elementary school level that can not be sustained at the higher level. I have heard statements that the immersions programs do cost more, as the language skills of these teachers requires that they be paid more. Probably finding out through the Union would be the definitive source.

  23. "I don't know that English is THAT easy to learn."

    The base of the language is easy to learn, except for the irregular past tense: go->went, has->had, think->thought, etc.

    Tense is the most easily constructed for an Indo-European language.

    "There are an enormous number of puzzling puns, metaphors and aphorisms"

    All powerful, literary languages have this. Without it, you could not constuct irony or humor.

    "The spelling and pronunciation are bizarre and non-phonetic"

    Yes, but with modern spelling and grammar checkers, that is less of a problem. Difficult pronunciation?

    Asian languages have tonality. That is tough, especially if you don't have a good ear. That doesn't even get to the complexity and years of dedication it takes to learn the written characters.

    "There are multiple ways to construct most sentences."

    Sentence construction in English is quite simple compared to other Indo-European languages. It is mostly subject, verb, object.

  24. I think this school is really up and coming. I hear that the Principle is supportive with her staff, great with the kids and involved with the parents. Don't know much about the teachers, but with a good leader things will fall into place. The PTA sound VERY active and motivated - advocating for after school enrichment programs and what have you. I wonder how this school will be when it's full K-5?

  25. Two comments to clear up a couple of things. First, the existing immersion programs do continue through middle school. Spanish immersion is at Hoover and Lick, and the Cantonese immersion program continues to Hoover and Marina (plus Alice Fong Yu and maybe some of the Spanish immersion schools are K-8). The District just created extra spots at existing middle schools and new spots at Everett to accommodate the increasing numbers of incoming middle schoolers from Spanish immersion programs, who will be starting this fall. It has also made a commitment that Mandarin immersion will continue through middle school.

    Second, it is not true that "Starr King's Mandarin Program has mostly middle class white families enrolled." It is true that the number of white kids is higher than the District's overall percentages. But it is certainly not most of the kids, and probably not the biggest ethnic group.

  26. November 20, 2009 3:15 PM

    Bubble mom here again. Yes, again. Sorry!

    As a speaker of two languages (now working on a third) I can tell you that learning a second language for a native English speaker is a lifelong commitment.

    I would welcome you to have a look at this discussion:

    If your family is Asian, then it is of course a different matter and Cantonese, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean, etc, would be useful languages to pass along to your children.

    Although my father was American, I actually grew up in Vancouver, British Columbia where Cantonese is even more common than in San Francisco. Even though there were quite a few Asian kids in my high school, I don't recall them ever speaking Cantonese. I've kept in touch with several of my Asian high school friends. I don't think they even speak Cantonese at home. It is not a particularly useful language if it is not your family language.

    We could have this conversation about Greeks who live in Astoria in New York. (Astoria has a large number of Greeks.) Sure, it is nice for Greeks to pass down their family language to their kids, but there really is no reason for anyone else to learn it.

    Actually, if you want to learn a REALLY useful language, why not the abstract language of mathematics. Most of the Asian engineers I've worked with are far more impressed with mathematical ability than dabbling with Cantonese or Mandarin.

    A surprising number of China's political leaders have backgrounds in engineering. Most Chinese consider mathematical ability as essential as language ability.

  27. I hope that those who really want to know more about the Chinese Immersion School at De Avila can come for a school tour, meet our staff and parents, and learn more about the wonderful things we're doing at our school.

  28. Bubble Mom,

    Know the facts about the school before you start any more nonsense statements. The school will have Mandarin instruction beginning in second grade with the goal of students becoming trilingual and bi-literate by fifth grade.

    Interesting facts you should know from

    Linguistic differences

    * Bilingual children develop an earlier understanding of taxonomic relationships than their monolingual peers (e.g., car and bus are vehicles). This understanding is not dependent on vocabulary size, but could be influenced by the structural features of the speaker's language.
    * Bilingual adults are better than monolingual adults at learning new words. Bilinguals use a variety of word-learning strategies with similar efficiency and are less susceptible to interference from conflicting orthographic information during word-learning.
    * Linguistic input co-activates both languages in bilinguals; when bilinguals hear or read words in one language, partially overlapping linguistic structures in the other language also are activated.

    Cognitive differences

    * Bilinguals may be able to inhibit irrelevant verbal and nonverbal information with greater ease than monolinguals.
    Inhibitory control ability is slower to decline with age in bilinguals than in monolinguals.
    * The average age of dementia onset is later in bilinguals than in monolinguals.
    * Bilingual children have been found to exhibit superior performance in divergent thinking, figure-ground discrimination, and other related meta-cognitive skills.

    Neural differences

    * Bilateral processing of language (and other nonverbal tasks) is most likely to occur only in early bilinguals.
    * Monolinguals and bilinguals use similar neural regions for language processing. However, late bilinguals are likely to activate the LIFG differentially for processes in which the LIFG plays a crucial role, such as phonological and syntactic processing.
    * Bilinguals have greater gray matter density than monolinguals in certain left hemisphere regions.

  29. In the End - it doesn't matter what language you study to get the benefits. And Cantonese is used every where in the City.

  30. My son attends CIS and I am very happy with the quality of education he is receiving. My wife and I both felt that it was important to try and get into a school that has a good reputation but it was just as important to get involved with the school as parents. CIS had no reputation, but there is a lot of parent involvement.

    What ever school you pick (and get), you never know how your child or you will feel about the school until months later.

    We were lucky.

    We LOVE the school and my son really enjoys coming to school. He doesn't care if the spoke language was in English, French or Swahili. It's really nice to see him play with his friends / classmates.

  31. I am a parent at Chinese Immersion School at De Avila. I feel that this is a special year. How many parents will have a chance to create a new school, virtually from scratch? While others would shy away from such an enormous task, as parent of the newest school in SFUSD, I have embraced it. Our family took a leap of faith, leaving a private immersion school in SF to attend a brand new public immersion program. We have never been more pleased that we did, as our daughter is happy and excelling.

    Within a week of our school assignment to Chinese Immersion School at De Avila (CIS), my husband and I attended a home meeting. Over 40 parents attended. Many of us looked around the room, and we knew right away that a great community could be built around this new school as parents were engaged, well-informed and committed to excellence.

    After many weeks of collaborative work, a very strong CIS spirit had developed and continues to grow.

    Over the summer months there were many family playdates. The registered families created a new family, the CIS family. We all worked hard to build this incredible new school, and have had a lot of fun while doing so.

    Longtime San Francisco PTA ex- executive director Barbara Lee remarked at our PTA charter meeting, “I have never seen so many parents sign up for membership as I have with your new school. You will have a great school.”

    We have accomplished so much in such a short time. We have raised over $40,000 since August. We have been awarded three grants so far. We have held over a dozen play dates, a Harvest Moon Cocktail Party, a Mom's Night Out, a Dad's Day Out, Family Math Night and many activities coming up, such as our Winter Performance, Grandparents Appreciation Night, Family Science Night and a camping trip to Olema.

    We have many enthusiastic parents volunteering during the school day as well as after hours, whether it's helping students compost in the lunch room, playing and assisting on the playground, making costumes for the winter performance, writing grants, painting parts of the campus, planting a garden and much more.

    Beyond CIS's strong community, we are complemented by our amazing principal, Rosina Tong, and her leadership skills. She is a native San Franciscan who is raising her family in SF. She is well respected at the district office, and well supported. She is trilingual in Cantonese, Mandarin and English. She is dynamic and approachable...she is the "whole" package.

    As a new school, we are fortunate that our principal was able to hand pick her team, and therefore we have teachers who mirror her values and goals for the school. Our teachers are hard working and extremely dedicated. All are BCLAD certified and attend training sessions with West Portal and Alice Fong Yu teachers as we share the same curriculum.

    We have a beautiful old building which has been newly painted. Our furniture and all of our books are brand new. There will be ADA work to make upgrades to the building, and the district is in the process of determining if our school can become a K-8, which is the goal for our community.

    If you are interested in touring our school please call 415.241.6325.