Washington Yu Ying Public Charter School, Washington, D.C.

Washington Yu Ying Public Charter School, Washington, D.C.
Maquita Alexander, Head of School
Andrew Stanoch, Director of Extended Learning
Jonathan Henry, Director of Development

Washington Yu Ying, with students in preK through Grade 5, is the first public school in Washington, DC, to offer Chinese language immersion. Yu Ying combines language immersion with the inquiry-based curriculum of the International Baccalaureate (IB) Organization and aims to spark the fire of lifelong learning by providing a world class education for students in the nation's capital.

Study Abroad Program at Yu Ying Public Charter School
Washington Yu Ying believes that study abroad can play an important role in inspiring students to stay focused on learning a second language. In order to help build their passion for language learning and cultural understanding, the school offers students an opportunity to take part in a specially designed two-week study abroad program in 5th grade, their last year at the school. The trip overlaps with the students’ spring break, and any student in 5th grade can participate. Of the students at the school, 5th grade students are (usually) the easiest to manage and supervise as a large group. They are also usually the most advanced speakers of Chinese and the most able to interact with their Chinese peers. They have had a minimum of 4 years of exposure to the language (if they enrolled at the school in 2nd grade, the last grade at which we accept new students), but most have been in a Chinese-speaking environment for 7 years at this point. The itinerary focuses on giving students a view of many different parts of China while providing them opportunities to use their language skills in a wide variety of authentic interactions. Students are able to see larger cities that are well-known to them (Beijing and Shanghai) as well as smaller or “new” cities (Chengdu and Zunyi, in Guizhou Province). Last year, students spent the largest portion of their trip in Zunyi, participating in homestays with their Chinese peers and visiting classrooms at the sister school.

Participating students complete a travel journal during their time in China and a series of reflections when they return. The travel journal has various sections, which provide opportunities for students to reflect on their homestay, cities they visit, food they eat, etc. These journals try to reflect all classes that students would have taken at the school, so certain sections require them to sketch or draw, while others ask them to write longer reflections or perform calculations. When students return to the school, they take time during the school day to expand on some of these reflections and are given the opportunity to share with younger classes what they experienced and the benefits they experienced from speaking Mandarin while in China.

Criteria for Student Participation
Any 5th grade student can participate. Applications include an explanation of why the student wants to pursue this study abroad opportunity, an evaluation of their language and intercultural abilities, and a few additional sections for students to complete if they wish to participate in the homestay portion of the trip or receive financial aid.

Because the students are younger, many parents elect to take the trip with their child. This gives a solid “base” of chaperones to start with. Yu Ying staff members also serve as chaperones to ensure that students get the most out of the trip. In 2015, four staff members will serve as chaperones: two staff members who attend every year—the Head of School and the Director of Extended Learning, who make decisions about and lead the planning of the trip—and two additional staff members. In the past, selection of the two additional chaperones has been based largely on availability. For the 2015 trip, any staff member wishing to act as a chaperone will apply and be interviewed. Selections will be made based on two criteria: one staff member will primarily support Chinese language and cultural education during the trip, and one will primarily provide review and support for the in-class instructional time that will be missed during the trip.

Program Funding
TThe cost of the trip is the most difficult aspect of it, and school staff members have been trying to improve funding methods. The trip costs approximately $3,200 per student. This is paid for through individual contributions from parents, individual and group fundraisers, limited support from the school administration, and “scholarships” from the school’s study abroad partner, ISE (Intercultural Student Experiences). To receive financial aid from ISE, students complete a brief application that includes income information and an explanation of why they are interested in the trip.

Benefits of Participation

  • Since the trip takes place during students’ last year at Yu Ying, it serves not only as a reward for their efforts while studying at Yu Ying but also as a motivator for their continued study of Mandarin in middle and high school. develop and solidify their friendships with their email pen pals in China.
  • Year after year, many of the students who participate in the trip come back much more focused in their Chinese classes and hungry to continue learning about this new part of the world, which most of them have seen for the first time. This renewed desire or focus on their studies and interest in the world around them are the biggest benefits.
  • The trip helps to fulfill a major part of the school’s mission: to create internationally minded, global citizens.

Program Challenges
The biggest challenge is finding funding for the trip and making it easily available to lower income students. The school seeks to raise limited funds internally (through parent contributions and community fundraisers) and engage in partnerships with other organizations (ISE and others) to provide insurance, collect payments via credit card, etc.

Programs Running a Study Abroad Program Will Want to Know

  • A study abroad program is difficult to implement but worth investing in because of what it can provide for students. There is a lot of information about the benefits of study abroad for college students but not as much about the benefits for younger students in immersion programs. Each activity should serve the purpose and goals of the program.
  • The opportunity to travel to China provides students with a boost of motivation that will ultimately deliver them to college with a much stronger language background and interest in the world around them.
  • Focus on the partnerships that can benefit your trip. Reach out to other schools, of a similar age, that have run study abroad programs. Build a strong partnership with a sister school that is willing to reciprocate with resources, teacher and student interaction, and help with planning the part of the trip that takes place in the host country.
  • If it works, publicize it! Our students actually had the opportunity to share their story with Michelle Obama, just before her trip to China this year. She specifically asked them about their time in China and the benefits they experienced. 


  • Experts in the field of Chinese language education answer questions that practitioners working in the field ask about.