AIM Elementary

Community Subscriber
Private School
operated by Ernest Mahr, Director
60 students
elementary [at]
3339 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Berkeley, CA 94703
Program Type:
Language immersion
Editors' Notes:

American International Montessori School specializes in Mandarin Chinese and Japanese full immersion education for students age 6-12. We are currently accepting applications for grades 1-3. We encourage families to visit to learn more about our unique academic program.

Parent Reviews

Parents, please Sign in to post a review on this page.

Archived Q&A and Reviews

April 2012

Re: Shu-Ren, GMIS, AIM? Which mandarin prep is best?
I personally have looked at a lot of Mandarin immersion programs and I believe that AIM under the direction of Ernie Mahr is the best. Aim has a clean educational environment inside their buildings. The faculty very well versed in early childhood education standards and national standards. The faculty at Aim has been a lot more in tune with their students then the faculty I saw at the other schools. Aim has truly been a blessing for our son and our family. This still will prepare out son for his next immersion school. AIM has sent many of its student to immersion elementary school where they are thriving. In our opinion their was only one choice, and that is AIM. Thanks, A

Feb 2012

Re: Mandarin immersion elementary school
The comments last week missed an important gem of a Mandarin immersion elementary school, American International Montessori. My son and daughter attend the preschool program, and I've been observing in the elementary school, to decide whether to keep them there, now that my older one is eligible for Kindergarten. (Full disclosure: I work for a group of private schools in Orange County, so my standards are very high!)

AIM is unique as it combines Montessori with Mandarin immersion.

As a Montessori school, AIM offers a very joyful learning environment, where high academic standards co-exist with deep understanding. You just have to visit the multi-age elementary classroom and observe: I came away from my observations wanting to go there myself, to explore all the interesting materials (there are replicas of human skulls throughout evolution, a class python and other animals, lots of science materials and experiments, and a 3,000+ book library right in the classroom!) And with the Montessori approach, children learn not just content, but also key skills such as organization, time management, and self-assessment.

The head English-speaking teacher, Mark Powell, is absolutely wonderful. He has almost two decades of Montessori teaching experience, and is just amazing at providing students with firm guidance and inspiration at the same time.

The classroom is tri-lingual, with one Mandarin speaking teacher and a Japanese-speaking, AMI-trained teacher, in addition to the English teacher. The mornings have all three languages spoken, and then there is a 2+ hour afternoon period dedicated to either Japanese or Mandarin, depending on the child's program.

The program is small - just over 20 students are in one class, with three teachers - so each child gets very personalized, individualized attention. They also go on regular field trips (seems like the elementary class is on a field trip every 2-3 weeks, and they do several overnight trips every year.) There's great communications, with a weekly elementary newsletter that describes in great detail what is going on in the class, and shares lots of picture with the parents.

The whole school is truly global: they celebrate Chinese & Japanese traditions, in addition to English ones. And while AIM is pretty new (this is the 3rd year), there's a great parent community, and the school is beyond the initial start-up phase and actually very organized.

My children spoke no Mandarin when they joined, but my older one (who has been at AIM now for 1.5 years) apparently now speaks it well (I can't really tell, as neither my husband or I speak Mandarin.) There is a mix of native speakers, but also many families who don't have a Mandarin (or even Asian) background, and with the individualized Montessori approach, each child can get challenged at his or her language level.

If you are looking for a place where your child will be immersed in Mandarin and in Asian culture, but also learn academics to a high standard, all while loving to go to school, you have to pay AIM a visit! Happy AIM parent

April 2011

Re: How is Montessori style Mandarin immersion

My son is currently at AIM in the infant community and has been there since September. I can't speak to the technical aspects of Montessori but can tell you my experience from the point of view from someone who didn't know a whole lot about it from the beginning.

My son went from a home based daycare with a lot of children primarily under the age of 2. When he arrived, they started teaching him to care for himself, including potty training him. I didn't understand how Montessori helped teach children to be self sufficient. But I saw how they helped him wash his hands. They guided his hand to the soap and showed him how to put his hand on top and push to release the soap. They never pushed it for him. When showing him how to pull up his pants, they guided his hands to his pants and put his hands around the waistline and showed him how to tug up on his pants. I try hard to let him do things by himself at home but am so glad that they are there to teach and challenge him.

I also looked at a preschool that had different classes for the children to attend and the children would shuffle from one room to another. In thinking about it, I am glad that the Montessori style allows children to spend a lot of time on something that interests them. When we have so many things where we can only spend a few minutes here or there, it's nice to encourage our children to get lost in what they enjoy without even knowing that they are learning. It is so nice to see children helping each other and learning from older ones.

I hope these brief examples provide some useful information that helps you from a non-technical perspective.

You didn't ask specifics about the school and the teachers, but that is the true key to the reason that I am so glad to have my son at AIM. They are truly caring and are excellent teachers. They create the environment and they are what makes it all successful. My son has thrived because of what they do and how they do it. Montessori is the tool that they use but they are the reason it works. I am sure that the other schools are very qualified--I can only speak to the fact that AIM has done a wonderful, wonderful job. a happy AIM parent

Hello! I realize that most parents probably say the school they chose for their children is the best one. I also realize that all children are different and so respond differently to various educational environments. But I also know it is nice to have candid advice on the various school options, so here is my opinion which you are welcome to take or leave.

My children are enrolled in American International Montessori (AIM) which we chose for them after reviewing all the options in the East Bay. We were immediately attracted to AIMC-s dual Mandarin and Japanese immersion starting at 18 months. Many other schools have a minimum enrollment age of 2 years. The dual language immersion was a huge plus for us C1 I see it as two languages for the price of one! If this were an academic paper, I could quote several studies that show children are quite capable of learning in two or more languages and doing so sharpens their cognitive skills at an early age. After only a few months at AIM, my children spoke Japanese, Mandarin, and English. They experienced no delays in language development (this is a common myth). Of course, they are toddlers and do not (yet) recite poetry in all three languages. But their vocabulary and sentence forming skills are roughly equal in all three languages and entirely appropriate for their age.

Montessori methods are really great for a lot of reasons. Again, I could quote studies, but you want to hear about our personal experience. My personal view is that Montessori believes your child is capable of much more than you might otherwise think. Our toddlers drink from real cups, feed themselves with utensils, dress themselves, use the potty, put on their shoes for outside play, and take off their shoes for inside play C1 all with little to no insistence from us. In fact, if we try to hurry them along by helping them, they balk and insist on doing things themselves. They clean up spills, wipe their mouths, wash their hands (with soap!), and load the dishwasher. They also entertain themselves, practice sharing, offer apologies, and exhibit generosity. All of this at two years old. We constantly receive praise from family members and strangers (even strangers on airplanes!) about how well behaved our children are.

I know that some critics of Montessori claim the environment is not fun, lacks social development, and is non-nurturing. I absolutely respect these opinions because as I said before, I believe all children (and all parents!) are different. Our experience, however, has been quite the opposite. Our children engage in creative, constructive, and athletic play at AIM and at home. They are also highly social with other children and adults. And most importantly, they are lavished with love and attention at AIM. If you need proof, simply stop by AIM and watch all the deliriously happy children running around during afternoon yard time. Good Luck!

Oct 2010

Re: Chinese Immersion for Chinese/African American child
My son is Chinese and Black as well. If you don't mind coming to the East Bay, we found a GREAT Chinese Immersion Program. The school we found for our son is called AIMS. American International Montessori School. We love this school!!!!! The teachers and director are up to date on curriculum and great with the children. We have been made to feel very comfortable at this school. You should really check AIMS out. It is in Berkeley.

April 2010

Re: East Bay Private K-4 Recommendation
Our kids go to American International Montessori (AIM) in Berkeley, and I think it is great! The teachers are great, but the headmaster Ernie Mahr is the reason we chose this school. I was a little worried about the looseness of the Montessori curriculum for our daughter who just entered the elementary program, but after 2 parent education nights and one parent teacher conference, I am satisfied that standard benchmarks are being used for comparison, and that she is exceeding anything I could have hoped for.

Oh yeah, and it is a multilingual environment. My wife is Japanese so our kids are in the Japanese program, but they also teach Mandarin. Whether you speak these languages at home or not, the benefits of early exposure to multiple languages is well documented, and furthermore, by the time these kids grow up, fluency in Mandarin could be quite an asset in the job marketplace.

I can't say enough about AIM especially in 1500 words or less, so I'll just say, you owe it to your kids to at least take a look. It's a little pricey, and you indicated that might be an issue, but I think it is worth every penny. I know several kids that were ''raised'' by Ernie when he was at PRINTS (Pacific Rim International School) and they are all, brilliant, inquisitive, self reliant, confident and extremely compassionate. These are all hallmarks of outstanding Montessori education.

I think as parents, it is our responsibility to provide the best opportunities that we possibly can for our children. I cannot imagine a better developmental opportunity than AIM. They don't teach your kids, they help them figure out how to be outstanding individuals. Andrew

Dec 2009

Re: American Int'l Montessori and Global Montessori
My child has attended both GMIS and AIM in their 3-6 year classrooms, and I actually like both schools, for different reasons. GMIS director Vivi Teng is extremely warm-hearted and dedicated to the students, and the parent community at that school is great. AIM director Ernie Mahr is extremely knowledgeable about child development and Montessori learning and has a host of highly experienced teachers and hard-working staff. I cannot speak for the GMIS classroom and instructors now, as I have no current experience, but the Chinese classroom at AIM is well-organized and the students focused on their learning - they have circle time 3x's a day, and interaction/activities with both the japanese and elementary students regularly. I don't feel there is any pressure from teachers to perform, but a gentle, consistent encouragement to develop good learning habits and a strong belief in the Montessori curriculum. AIM also offers great afternoon enrichment activities for the kids, including choir, soccer, art, drums, and kung fu, which for me, rounds out my child's education nicely. I would highly encourage you to visit and spend time at both schools to get to know them better.

Our 4.5 yo daughter started at AIM's Chinese Children's House this past September, after 4 years at a really wonderful family-run daycare (Cynthia's Creative Care) - so she started with almost zero Mandarin. We've gotten all of what we'd hoped for and much more from our experience at AIM.

-teachers are extremely experienced, very kind and patient. Just as importantly, the admin folks are fabulously organized, communicative and responsive.

-both my husband and I really enjoyed our opportunity to sit in and observe our daughter's classroom in action. Activities are very inviting and stimulating - allowing interactive work and solo learning. The school also sponsors parent education nights that have given us some great food for thought. In particular, the director Mahr sensei is very accessible, with great insight into issues about parenting and life lessons to bring back into the home.

-the biggest test of course is how our daughter has responded to AIM. Understandably, it was rough for her to go from a mostly English-speaking loosely structured setting to a Chinese immersion school setting. We did get about 2-3 weeks of major tears and drama at drop off, but even in that rocky period she was demonstrated huge advances in language acquisition and other development. We've seen her develop an amazing ability to focus on a given task, work independently to solve problems, a lovely inclination to help clean around the house, a big jump in counting and math skill/ interest, and lively language development: spoken, written, and sung (I love all the singing), Chinese, English and some Japanese. Even a renewed interest in other languages she's exposed to (Tagalog and Spanish). She's brought home and implemented with us circle time and the peace table.

In sum, AIM was the right choice for us, blending language immersion, Montessori theories, experienced teachers and a warm communicative/responsive environment. Hope this is helpful. Linda

We have two children currently enrolled at American International Montessori - a 3 year old and a 7 year old, both in the Mandarin programs. We also previously had both children enrolled at both Pacific Rim and Global Montessori in years past.

We have had generally positive experiences at all three schools, however we are extremely happy to be at American International (AIM). To address the specific questions:

--The environment at the school is very nurturing. The teacher in our 3 year old child;s Mandarin classroom has decades of experience and actually worked with our older child at Pacific Rim. She runs a very organized classroom and at first glance might not seem "nurturing." That was honestly my first reaction years ago upon meeting her at Pacific Rim. However she has been without a doubt the favorite teacher of both of our children. They simply love her. How she manages that connection with the kids while keeping such order and focus on the lessons is pretty amazing.

--The Mandarin teacher for the "infant community" - which is where a 2 year old would be - also came from Pacific Rim. She also teaches the Mandarin lesson to the elementary children in the afternoon, including our seven year old. All the same comments apply here - she runs a very tight ship while creating very strong bonds with the children.

Equally important, both are excellent Mandarin instructors. I do not speak Mandarin, but my wife does. But even to my ears, I can tell that both children are getting more focused instruction in Chinese, simply by the greater comfort and comprehension I see when they speak to or listen to other Chinese speakers.

The decision of these two teachers to come to AIM was a key factor in our enrolling our kids there.

-- Re: Academic pressure. There is definitely a focus on learning and adhering to Montessori lesson plans at AIM, but it is far from what I would describe as "academic pressure." Rather, as parents we are presented during parent/teacher meetings with a progress report of how our children are doing in multiple categories. If a child is doing very well in some areas yet not as advanced in others, that is noted and the focus of their days may be shifted - but there is no pressure to "keep up with the class." It seems very child-oriented, i.e. each child learning at their own pace. That said, I'm continually amazed at how much the kids can do at such an early age - cutting up and distributing snacks, drawing/labeling maps of the world, setting the lunch table and cleaning up afterwards. And our older child is reading and writing at a fantastic level.

The final comment would be that we are simply big fans of the staff as a whole. The school's director is someone whose approach to child development, language instruction and community building is one that we have grown to trust a great deal. So we're quite happy. Christopher

Nov 2009

Re: Mandarin Bilingual from K on - which one?
All the schools you are considering, except Shu Ren, follow a Montessori curriculum, which is very different from a traditional style of teaching, and something you should be aware of, especially for K-5. My child is attending preschool at AIM, so though I cannot speak to the K-5 question specifically, I can say that I am very pleased with both the level of professionalism and organization of the administration and teaching staff, and the level of education my child is receiving there. The director is a teacher at heart, a former curriculum director at both PRINTS and GMIS, and is very committed to the Montessori philosophy of learning. Though it is a relatively new school, the Chinese classroom directors have many years of teaching experience in chinese language AND Montessori (something I realize is rare in these parts), and have worked with the main director for many years previous. From day one, our experience has been very smooth, and I believe AIM offers the best combination of a team of experienced, dedicated teachers and the energy and potential of a new school. Anon.

Nov 2009

Re: Mandarin Bilingual from K on - which one?
We have direct experience with three of these schools: PRINTS, Global and AIM. My daughter started at PRINTS at 2 years old and went there for 3 years. She then spent about a year at Global and is now at AIM. In our experience these were all good schools. What we felt made them good was the leadership of the director Ernie Mahr (and of course his staff). Ernie (worked at PRINTS and Global, and has now founded his own school: AIM) Ernie exudes an energy of caring, compassion, and twinkling humor. He attracts an amazing staff who does a great job with the montessori teachings as well as providing the nurturing and caring community that is so important to us. My daughter, who is now 8, in addition to knowing Mandarin also has a strong mastery of math that seems intuitive (we suspect this is due to the montessori teaching since neither my husband or I were ever particularly good at math). My 2 year old has just started going to AIM as well and is really started to thrive -he's picking up the languages and starting to say phrases in Mandarin. I think, given the choice between the three schools, your best bet is AIM. Feel free to contact me if you have more specific questions melissa

Nov 2009

Re: Mandarin Bilingual from K on - which one?
Dear Incoming K-parent,

I'm a parent of two at American International Montessori (AIM) and now also help run admissions at the school. When I was searching for Mandarin programs 5 years ago, there was just one in the East Bay. Now parents have a range of choices so it's great to go and visit the different programs and get a feel for each.

What sets our program apart is our highly experienced team of teachers who have all worked intimately with our Director, Ernie Mahr-- some for near a decade or more. Ernie has 16 years of experience running trilingual Montessori programs in the East Bay, and now at his own school, he has brought together his dream team of teachers who share his vision-- with the same academic focus you would expect in a great Montessori program, but with a more rigorous language acquision model in two separate programs, Mandarin and Japanese. There is no language experience required if you are starting in the kindergarten year.

As an incoming kindergartener, your daughter would join our Mandarin program for 3-6 year olds which is a total immersion environment from 9am to 1pm, then has an English component in the afternoon. She would eventually graduate to our Elementary program which is taught in English in the morning, then intensive Mandarin in the afternoons.

We would welcome an opportunity to speak with you about our program for your daughter. We enroll year-round and tours are available several times a week. We have a terrific program and staff, and the support of many families who are committed long- term to AIM. Please do not hesitate to contact us via our website.   Sincerely, H.L.