Eighty percent of the children coming to the Chinese American International School (CAIS) at matriculation come from families with no Chinese speakers. And yet, all students from Kindergarten through eighth grade study all subject areas in both Chinese and English. Established in 1981, the Chinese American International School is the oldest Chinese language immersion school in the United States and is a prototype for the teaching of Chinese in schools.
At this San Francisco independent school, language learning is not just a classroom exercise. For example, students running for student government must give speeches in both Chinese and English, and even portions of science fair projects must be completed in both languages. Students benefit from sister-school relationships with classrooms in China that feature email exchanges, joint online research and a two-week student exchange at the middle school level. The school produces students who are comfortable in two languages and two cultures - an extremely important model for the times in which we are living.
establishing an Institute for Teaching Chinese Language
and Culture, the school has become a leading resource
for curriculum materials and teacher training in the field
of dual-language programs. Through the Institute, the school
offers assistance to other schools, both public and private,
seeking guidance in teaching Chinese language and culture.
Winner of the 2004 Goldman Sachs Prize for Excellence in International Education for an elementary/middle school, Andrew Corcoran, Head of School, states, "Receiving the Goldman Sachs prize energized our community. While the monetary award was important, the pride and sense of validation was priceless. Since receiving the prize, we have greatly expanded our work with other schools, providing support and guidance to those who are looking to open their curriculum to China and East Asia."
The prize award was used to expand professional development at the school and this increased funding has been sustained through the generous support of the local community. In fact, the school recently hosted a conference for schools and individuals on the teaching of Chinese Culture and Language K-12, the first national professional development resource specifically focused on Chinese language programs in the country. Over 350 participants from across the United States attended. While this may seem removed from winning the prize, it was an outgrowth of the confidence and recognition the school gained from receiving the Prize. As the demand for more Chinese langauge programs K-12 grows across the country, CAIS is seen as a leader in the field and has been a valuable resource for those starting their own programs. The school has also been featured in news articles in major publications across the country.
As for advice to those looking to add an international dimension to their schools, Andrew Corcoran says, "This is absolutely essential. But my greatest advice is not to the schools and organizations trying to engage K-12 students in learning about the world, it is to those organizations who do not. I want to cry out to them, 'You must educate about this! Your students and the world require it. The future depends on it!'"