Chinese American International School (CAIS) Preschool
Chinese American International School
Serves students in pre-kindergarten through middle school.
Jeff Bissell, Head of School
Britta Pells, Head of Early Childhood
Chu Hsi Tseng, Preschool Director (incoming fall 2020)
Kevin Chang, Chinese Program Director
Chinese American International School (CAIS) is a private, independent school in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley neighborhood. Founded in 1981, with just 10 students in the basement of a University of California Extension building, CAIS is the oldest Mandarin-English dual language immersion school in the United States. The school now enrolls more than 500 students in Preschool through Grade eight on three campuses.
The preschool supports 72 preschool students and is staffed by 4 lead teachers and 4 teaching associates. CAIS has followed a 50/50 Chinese/English model in the Early Childhood and Lower School Divisions since its founding. However, consistent with CAIS’s mission to “Embrace Chinese” and vision to “Reimagine Immersion,” the preschool will adopt a full Chinese immersion model at the start of the 2021–22 school year.
CAIS’s preschool offers a play-based program with mixed age groupings of three- and four- year-old students. The mixed-age groupings have been an asset to our program, providing a supportive environment for language learning and social and emotional development. As students move through the program from their first year into their second, they develop confidence and emerge as leaders and role models for their younger peers, which has great benefits for their Chinese language acquisition. Mixed-age groupings necessitate a differentiated approach, allowing us to meet all children where they are. We value play as a critical vehicle for learning, and children enjoy large blocks of time throughout the day for open-ended, collaborative play. Play provides rich opportunities for language development and practice, and the Chinese teachers find intentional ways to support students’ language learning through play.
CAIS recognizes the unique period of development that is early childhood. At the start of the 2020–21 school year, the Early Childhood Division will expand beyond preschool to include Kindergarten and Grade one, better aligning the experiences of CAIS’s youngest students.
The dual language curriculum is organized around integrated units that are designed to be flexible from year to year and responsive to students’ interests and needs. Curiosity is a core value at CAIS and an important characteristic of young learners that we seek to grow. We nurture the natural propensity in young students for learning through a scaffolded inquiry approach that centers Chinese language outcomes.
Core tenets of CAIS’s mission are to “Become your Best Self” and “Contribute to a Better World”, and we achieve these through a deliberate focus on social and emotional learning (SEL) and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Through daily classroom experiences, special projects, field trips, and guest speakers, children learn how to care for themselves and others in their community and beyond.
Another essential component of CAIS’s preschool is the recognition of parents as partners in their children’s immersion education. We have a highly engaged parent body that lends time and expertise to volunteer in the classrooms, organize community building events, and support teachers. In addition, the school provides robust parent education offerings on the topics of parenting support, early childhood development, CAIS programming, and Chinese language learning.
The most important component in any program is the teachers, and CAIS faculty members are among the best! The school actively supports teacher professional development as a means of growing their practice and increasing teacher tenure.
Head of School
Head of Early Childhood
Chu Hsi Tseng
Preschool Director (incoming fall 2020)
Chinese Program Director