Forest Hills Public Schools Mandarin Immersion Program

Forest Hills Public Schools Mandarin Immersion Program

Program Description

The Forest Hills Public School District serves approximately 10,000 students and includes 18 school buildings, a fine arts center, an aquatic building and senior center, and many more buildings to service its residents, families, students, and staff. The Forest Hills district is one of the largest geographic districts in Michigan, encompassing approximately 68 square miles.

The Forest Hills Public Schools (FHPS) Mandarin Immersion Program was the first of its kind in Western Michigan. The program began in 2008, and brings together Eastern and Western culture in order to provide a rich academic, linguistic, and cultural experience for students. Today, they celebrate the program’s growth, with nearly 400 students enrolled.

Learners in grades K–4 experience a 50/50 one-way immersion model. In grade 5, the program shifts to an intensive Mandarin language and literacy block, designed to build upon the K–4 base and further deepen oral speaking, listening, reading, and writing capacity in Mandarin. Beginning in the 2017–18 school year, high school students enrolled in the Forest Hills Public Schools Mandarin Chinese Immersion Program can begin working on their Chinese language college minor, thanks to an agreement signed between FHPS and Western Michigan University’s (WMU) Extended University Programs. Students who remain in the district’s grade K–12 program and graduate from high school will have earned a free college minor in Chinese from WMU.

FHPS Schools in the Mandarin Immersion Program:

  • Meadow Brook Elementary School (Grades K–4)
  • Northern Trails 5/6 School (Grades 5–6)
  • Northern Hills Middle School (Grades 7–8)
  • Northern High School (Grades 9–12)

This Program Road Map shows the path that students can follow as they move from grade to grade and school to school.

Program Features

Students who continue the Mandarin immersion program in Forest Hills can earn up to 28 college credits in Chinese within four years, through a partnership between FHPS and Western Michigan University. Students must meet certain college admission requirements to become a WMU student, yet there are no costs to families for college credits earned through this program. The program is housed at Northern High School, so that students do not have to leave and travel to WMU’s campus.

As part of the articulation process of the Mandarin immersion program, FHPS looks to assessment and research to guide programs. Students in the program are assessed in the areas of oral fluency, grammar, vocabulary, and listening comprehension on the Student Oral Proficiency Assessment (SOPA). In addition, high school seniors can apply for the Michigan Seal of Biliteracy. This seal was created to recognize high school graduates who exhibit language proficiency in English and at least one additional world language, such as Mandarin.

Teachers in the Mandarin Chinese program are master teachers. They are young adults, typically from China and finishing up their college education and teacher certification in the United States. While most Mandarin Chinese immersion programs lose their Mandarin Chinese teachers after about three years due to immigration laws, Forest Hills Public Schools works with a law firm that specializes in immigration law to retain teachers by legally updating their visas and ensuring that there is appropriate documentation to remain with the district. Having talented teachers remain and earn tenure within the district provides consistency and continuity in the program.

FHPS also have a very active, involved, and supportive parent group, CHI-PAC (the Mandarin Chinese Immersion Parent Advisory Council). CHI-PAC was formed as a conduit of communication between parents and families and the FHPS administration. Through this council, families are made aware about current events, plans, and developments across grade levels and buildings within the Mandarin Chinese immersion program. CHI-PAC consists of administrative and parent representatives.

The Mandarin Chinese Immersion Program partners with the following organizations:
Asia Society Confucius Classrooms Network
Michigan State University Confucius Institute
Western Michigan University Confucius Institute
Flagship Chinese Acquisition Pipeline
Western Michigan Alliance of Immersion Educators

What Parents Say About the Program

“Putting our daughters in the Mandarin Immersion Program was a very easy choice for us. First, learning any second language is a benefit to children. Second, speaking, reading, and understanding Mandarin will benefit them as they enter adulthood and the work world.” –Kelly Buth

“My child has been in the program for over seven years, and we continue to be amazed by his level of linguistics and writing in Mandarin. So many incoming elementary school children and their parents have the unique opportunity to have their children immersed in a language program that most families have to pay thousands of dollars for. It’s a ‘win’ for our district, community, families, and students.” –Michael Walzer

“Initially, we were reluctant to pursue the Mandarin Chinese Immersion Program. Upon the urging of friends, we visited Meadow Brook and had the opportunity to see the kindergarten students in action. We were amazed to see them follow along and participate in class, given their limited time in the program. With cautious hearts, we decided to sign our daughter up for the program. The first few weeks were challenging, but soon she came home with phrases and songs in her new language, and her confidence grew. By first grade she was able to carry on a conversation in Mandarin!” –Tara Herrington

Schools and Contacts

Meadow Brook Elementary
Tim Shaw, Principal

1450 Forest Hills SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49546

Grade Levels: K–4
Number of Chinese Immersion Students, Grades K–4: 230
Number of Mandarin Immersion Teachers:

  • K–4 Classroom Teachers: 5
  • Oral language/Culture: 1
  • Interns: 4

Points of Pride:

  • Students’ performance in Mandarin and math continues to grow every year, as measured by multiple assessments.
  • Students at Meadow Brook Elementary benefit from a one-hour culture class instructed in Chinese once a week.
  • Students are immersed in the Chinese culture with numerous celebrations throughout the school year, including, but not limited to, Moon Festival, Chinese New Year, and Lantern Festival.
  • For the last three years, the school has hosted students from Shanghai, China, for networking opportunities.
  • The student retention rate at the grade K–4 level is around 96%.

Northern Trails 5/6 School
Dr. Susan Gutierrez, Principal

3777 Leonard NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49525

Grade Levels: 5–6
Number of Chinese Immersion Students in Grades 5–6: 78
Number of Mandarin immersion Teachers, Aides, and Other Staff:

  • Classroom Teachers: 2
  • Instructional Aide: 1
  • Teaching Assistants: 2

Points of Pride:

  • Northern Trails 5/6 is host to two language immersion programs, Mandarin and Spanish. With a population of 515 grade 5 and 6 students, 46% of our students study in an immersion program. As new professionals move to the Grand Rapids area to work in the booming local economy, we are proud of the language diversity of our families, with over 44 languages other than English spoken in students’ homes.
  • Every other year, Northern Trails works with a parent group to create an optional Parent-Child trip to China. Spring 2019 will mark our third trip to China this year, with 46 family members hosted in Beijing, Xi’an, and Chengdu. A sister-school visitation day is always a highlight of the trip.
  • We have partnerships with the Michigan State University Confucius Center and the Western Michigan University Confucius Center.
  • Student retention at the grade 5–6 level is around 100%.

Northern Hills Middle School
Dr. David Simpson, Principal

3775 Leonard NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49525

Grade Levels: 7-8
Number of Chinese Immersion Students in Grades 7–8: 74
Number of Mandarin Immersion Teachers:

  • 5–6 Classroom Teachers: 1
  • Teaching Assistants: 1

Points of Pride:

  • Several of our students participated in the annual Confucius Institute at Western Michigan University’s Chinese Bridge Competition. The competition included three parts: Chinese knowledge, a talent show, and a speech. Students could participate in all three categories, or they could select one of the three. Several students earned first and second place for the Chinese knowledge and speech parts of the competition.
  • We host a Spring Festival celebration each year. Students cook Chinese food to  celebrate the New Year and make fortune cookies.
  • In class, students participate in project-based learning activities, such as designing and developing a community/social school club within the school.

Northern High School
Jon Gregory, Principal

3801 Leonard NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49525

Grade Levels: 9–12
Number of Chinese Immersion Students:

  • Grade 9: 19
  • Grade 10: 29 (first cohort of students who entered the program when it began)

Number of Chinese Immersion Teachers:

  • 1 professor from WMU, who teaches the college-level class
  • 1 Chinese Language Tutor provided by WMU
  • 1 Student Success Coach to assist students

Participating Mandarin immersion students can take one college-level course per semester, 7 credits per year. Students are considered college students for the class(es), even when earning high school credit at the same time. The professor teaching the class is hired by Western Michigan University. Students are starting a college transcript that will move with them.

Course Content: (subject to change)
Year One: CHIN 1010 – Basic Chinese II (4 credits) and CHIN 2800 – Chinese Calligraphy (3 credits)
Year Two: CHIN 2000 – Intermediate Chinese I (4 credits) and CHIN 2100 – Business Chinese (3 credits)
Year Three: CHIN 2010 and Intermediate Chinese II (4 credits) and CHIN 2750 – Chinese Life and Culture (3 credits)
Year Four: CHIN 3160 – Chinese Composition (3 credits) and CHIN 3170 – Chinese Conversation (4 credits)

Points of Pride:

  • In May 2019, Grade 9 students, Catherine Hwang and Josephine Koch, participated in the 2018 U.S. Midwest Chinese Bridge Speech Contest for High School Students at Valparaiso University. Josephine won first place in the comprehensive contest of high school level 3 (including Chinese speech, written exam, impromptu speech, Chinese cultural talent, and an oral quiz on topics of Chinese culture and history). Catherine won second place in the comprehensive contest of high school level 3 and the Best Speech Award of the 2018 Chinese Bridge Contest.

District Contacts

Margaret Fellinger
Assistant Superintendent for Instruction
(616) 493-8806

Jesús Santillán
Director of Immersion and Language Learning
(616) 493-8578