I know I've posted a lot in the last week, probably to the point of over-posting. But I'm trying to squeak in one more private school post before the first application deadlines land on December 15.
And this time, I'm doing things backwards. I won't have time this week to post detailed tour notes on two private schools that we toured -- French American International and Chinese American International. But I'm sure that a lot of families out there are likely to be applying. So I'm going to post this summary first, and add tour notes to the database later.
In thinking through these schools, one key thing keeps coming to mind -- in getting the language benefits of an immersion education, what else might one have to give up?
In our tours, these schools were certainly distinctive. Here are a few key impressions.
- Challenging but warm kindergarten classroom, with teachers and students working collaboratively and bilingually to think through questions related to numbers and the calendar.
- Academically demanding middle school classrooms that seemed to take a traditional approach but keep the students engaged. I've rarely seen students of any age, let alone middle schoolers, have such a thoughtful discussion with their teacher about Emily Dickinson.
- The addition of a third language (Spanish, Mandarin, or Italian) to the curriculum later in elementary school gives students a noteworthy distinction. At the FAIS Open House, the confident, personable middle schoolers and high schoolers who gave remarks -- each in three different languages -- were among the most impressive student speakers we've seen at just about any school we've visited.
- Challenging, serious kindergarten classrooms. In no other school have I seen little kids working more intently. If you want an academic, immersion-based kindergarten, this is a school for you.
- Lively, vibrant middle school classrooms. In one Chinese-language fifth grade geography/social studies lesson, kids were practically falling over each other to answer questions posed by their cheery, dynamic teacher. Interestingly, the middle school classes almost seemed a little more relaxed than those in the elementary school.
- An excellent math program. If you or your child loves math, take a look at this school.
So what's behind my larger question? It's driven, in great measure, by people I've met on other tours -- parents at immersion schools who are looking to transfer. To be specific, on tours this fall I've met four current CAIS families who are seeking other options, two Alice Fong Yu families, and one each from FAIS, Jose Ortega, and Buena Vista.
All have said essentially the same thing -- their current schools aren't terrible or harmful, but they just aren't the right fit for their child. According to these families, a certain kind of child who enjoys very structured, traditional academic environments will do well at immersion schools. For other children, these families said, it's a different story.
(For more context, I tried digging through the SF K Files archives for past tour notes on these schools, but could only find notes for FAIS, AFY, and Buena Vista. If anyone knows of others I missed, please add to the comments!)
I'm not implying that families are fleeing these schools in droves, and I'm not trying to bash immersion schools as a whole. We plan to tour some public immersion programs in January. And movement between schools is to be expected -- we saw lots of it in preschool. All of the above-mentioned immersion schools are popular. But still, I think it's worth asking -- when a school is trying to focus on language, how much additional flexibility does it have?
What have others found at immersion schools, either as current parents, former parents, or on the tour circuit? In an immersion-focused curriculum, what other factors might get lower priority? Which students do best in immersion schools? How do these schools handle different learning styles, or social and emotional issues? Can you get immersion and still "have it all"?