A growing interest in having students learn Mandarin means two high schools could offer the language in the fall, if teens actually sign up.
Students at Burlingame Intermediate School are among those in San Mateo County with the opportunity to take Mandarin. Many children from that school go on to Burlingame High School, however, which does not offer the foreign language. Parents have sought to change that. In the fall, the San Mateo Union High School District is hoping to start offering Mandarin at San Mateo and Burlingame high schools. The classes will start if enough students enroll — a caveat that worries parents who don't want to sign up for a school that won't offer the program they seek.
"Kids really want it too,” said Andy Parsons, associate superintendent of instruction for San Mateo Union. "The bottom line is we're going to do what we can do to support parents.”
Last week, parents submitted a letter to the district asking for a firmer commitment. Parsons said that Mandarin is offered at Mills High School and there is confidence that the demand for a class at San Mateo will be strong.
For the Burlingame Elementary School District, the focus is making sure the high school program is aligned with what's offered at the intermediate school, said Trustee Michael Barber.
Burlingame's program has been growing stronger each year. Parents who want the program offered at the local public schools said, without a commitment, families are forced to select a school without knowing the Mandarin program they desire will be there, according to the Jan. 4 letter to the San Mateo Union High School District Board of Trustees.
Locally, the interest in Mandarin has grown in recent years.
When immersion programs are started, districts often consider focusing on either Spanish or Mandarin. Spanish is often the chosen language because more materials are available to start such a program.
The San Mateo-Foster City Elementary School District was the most recent district in San Mateo County to start a Mandarin immersion program. Mandarin classes were introduced at College Park Elementary in San Mateo in 2005 as an elective. It became so popular, students were interested in taking the class a second and even a third time. The interest got the district thinking there was a growing demand. In the next year, the program was extended into a part-time option. Then the school slowly started growing the immersion program, which is now offered in all grades, from preschool to fifth grade.
Heather Murtagh can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 105.