Bilingual & Immersion Schools

Parent Q&A

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  • Hi ,

    I have been researching on public schools that offer mandarin immersion classes in the Bay Area . I see quite a few schools but I was wondering if there were parents who have gone through the system and can let me know how was the application process as well as if there was a continuation from an elementary mandarin immersion school to eventually a mandarin immersion high school. I am not from the area so any advice would be really useful ! 

    Thanks ! 

    WCCUSD has a new Mandarin immersion program that currently enrolls up to 3rd, growing a grade each year.

  • Bilingual Daycare in North Berkeley?

    (1 reply)

    Hi! I just found out that I'm pregnant and am due late-February 2019.  It's very important to me that my child learn another language from day one.  I don't have strong feelings about which language, but have a slight preference for Spanish, Mandarin, French, Russian, or Arabic.  I've been looking, but can't seem to find many bilingual day cares in North Berkeley.  Do you know of any you can recommend?  Thanks in advance!

    There is a Russian daycare, walking distance to North Berkeley BART station and 2 parks. Cheburashka, the owner is Victoria vscott [at]

    Both of my boys went to this daycare. Right now they have many French children as well there.

    Best of luck,


  • Bilingual immersion school—stay or go?

    (2 replies)

    My daughter is in first grade in a 50/50 immersion program. She had minimal exposure to Spanish before K. She’s doing well with reading and writing in English and math. But recently her grades in Spanish have gone down (and they were not great to begin with). For the first time her Spanish teacher expressed concern that she might start falling behind in the subjects that are taught in Spanish (e.g. math) as the material gets more difficult if her language doesn’t pick up. My daughter  was recently in a small tutoring group to try to help the students who are struggling with Spanish and she was very distracted and not at all interested. She didn’t retain much of what was taught. I’ve simultaneously been pursuing testing for ADHD. There is also a lot of homework at this grade level, which is a major struggle to complete. My daughter likes the school and her teachers and doesn’t want to change, but she gets very frustrated and then won’t try to work on Spanish, even simple things. I’m wondering if we should transfer schools now or give it more time. (I’m single and work full time  so we have limited time and resources to work with too.) I’d love to hear from parents whose kids struggled in immersion programs, particularly those with kids with ADHD.


    It sounds like your child is not receiving the instruction she needs at her school.  If there is a large enough group of kids struggling with this that they have a tutoring group, the school really needs to rethink their instruction methods, not blame it on the kids.  This is why many immersion schools do 90% Spanish in kinder, and 80% in first.  I would consider switching to one of those schools.  

    My son is in a Chinese immersion school, he is not a classic ADHD but has hard time to focus. The ADHD assessments will give you a good idea what to do next. Maybe there is a way for the school to accommodate their instructions to your child needs according to the neuropsychologist recommendations? Make sure the school can support her needs (we have a learning plan for our child).

    It seems a low English/Spanish ratio for that age.

    What about 1:1 tutoring?

  • I've just arrived in the area and am interested in learning about public Spanish immersion/dual-language in the area elementary schools. Our family is bilingual and we're interested to know about folks' experience with these public options for dual-language- how they operate, admission, performance, school culture (specifically if there are actually Latino children in the schools, a mix of learners and native Spanish speakers), and overall satisfaction. Where do kids go for MS or HS when they finish?

    Thanks for any insights!

    Check out Melrose Leadership Academy, in Oakland near Mills College. It is a dual immersion k-8 school with a good reputation academically and as far as the Community goes.

    I don't have first hand experience but have heard good things about Melrose Leadership Academy and Manzanita Community School. 

    Welcome! Berkeley's public elementary two-way immersion school is at LeConte in south Berkeley. My child attends and the following is my understanding of the aims and policies, though I may be off on the official line. They aim for 50% Spanish-dominant population and in practice I believe get 1/3 Spanish-dominant, 1/3 bilingual, 1/3 Spanish-naieve/English-dominant. At a glance, the school appears to be roughly half Latino (including biracial). BUSD uses a lottery for all their elementary schools. Any Berkeley resident can apply to LeConte. Because they aim to get 50% Spanish-dominant, it is harder to get in if your child does not speak Spanish. If you claim Spanish language on the application, your child will be tested. While I once heard that bilingual children end up filling in the 50% Spanish dominant slots (because it's hard to fill those), it seems like you may only get preference if your child is actually stronger in Spanish than English. But that may not be true. LeConte offers 30 min of language lab 4 days a week for language learners to focus on their weaker language at their level--this seems to be a very good program. The two-way immersion works. My child was Spanish-naieve and speaks, reads, and writes well in both languages after 3 years (English spelling is rough, though!). Kids speak English on the playground but I think the aftercare teachers speak in Spanish. I know a mother who speaks Spanish at home and has sent 4 children through BUSD's two-way immersion program. She says her children are very strong in both languages and she is very happy with the program. Students can attend Longfellow Middle school to continue the immersion. (But FYI the immersion is 90% in K, gradually reducing to ~50% by 5th, and middle school is <50% Spanish, I believe.) I've heard Berkeley High has lots of great classes for advanced Spanish speakers. Good luck!

    there's also Global Families in the Fruitvale. 

  • Hi,
    my familiy and I will be moving to the Berkeley area for one year due to my research stay at LBNL from Feb. 2017 until Feb 2018. I have 2 kids in elemantary school age (8 and 6) and one in kindergarten age (4). Their first language is German (as we live in Austria), their second language is Spanish (as I am from there).

    Since we will only be here for one year and my kids speak no English so far, we are looking for public schools which have Spanish/English bilingual programmes. We are still open on the neighboorhood or even area we will be living in (as long as it is in an commutable distance to Berkeley). I have asked already at the Berkeley Unified School District, but their Bilingual/Two-Way-Immersion classes have a waiting list.

    I would appreciate any advice or recommendations on schools (and their respective neighboorhoods) that seem suitable.

    Thanks in advance,


    Have you looked at the German School of Silicon Valley? They have a Berkeley campus. It's a private school but it looks like they have finical aid; not sure if that's something you could do at this late a date, but may be worth looking into.... here is their website:

    Hi Gabriel,

    We have a wonderful Spanish-English immersion charter school in Napa - the Napa Valley Language Academy - if you are willing to make the 45-minute commute by car from Napa to Berkeley. 

    You say that you are looking for public schools, but it is worth mentioning Escuela Bilingue Internacional, which is a private school on the Berkeley/Oakland border.  They have an elementary school and a preschool.   There also is a private bilingual German English school.

    I know you wrote you want to live in Berkeley, which is understandable since you will be at LBNL. However, there is an excellent public bilingual "dual immersion" Spanish-English public K-8 school in Oakland near Mills College called Melrose Leadership Academy. The commute would be long-ish, but not impossible, and the neighborhoods near Melrose are nice - you could probably afford to rent a whole house down this way (my neighborhood) for much less than in Berkeley. You could take Bus or BART to Berkeley, and there is also a shuttle between Mills College and UC Berkeley, though I don't know it's frequency or limitations. The school website is   Berkeley Parent Network discussion of MLA is at:

    Oakland neighborhoods near Melrose Academy include : Laurel District, Maxwell Park, Millsmont, Steinway Terrace/Jefferson, Brookdale Park, Allendale, and Redwood Heights. This sounds like a lot, huh? the neighborhood boundaries are quite small and a neighborhood may be only 4-6 square blocks. For example, my neighborhood (Steinway/Jefferson) is only 4 x 3 city blocks. But these are names to use when looking at real estate maps when looking for a rental. This general area of Oakland is about 30 min by car from North Berkeley, depending on traffic and the route you take. The closest BART station is Fruitvale, which has dedicated bike parking and a bike service station. We have friends up the street who commuted to LBL for several years on a (electric assist) bike.  

    I'd recommend moving to El Cerrito or the Richmond-area that is closest to El Cerrito (Richmond Annex or Richmond View). Housing is generally less expensive than Berkeley and it is still an easy commute to LBNL either by Bart or driving to the back gate. The public schools will also have other students who speak Spanish at home. The West Contra Costa school district has a comprehensive master plan for English-learner students at this link

    Bienvenidos - willkommen to the Bay Area!

    While this might not help a ton for your youngest child in K, my impression is that the upper classes (2nd grade & on) in the two-way immersion programs at BUSD might have some space occasionally due to attrition (people moving away), and might be amenable to having kids with appropriate language levels (yours are near-fluent in family Spanish, I would assume?) join. Although the administration might not confirm until very close to their start date, it might be worth pursuing.

    Viel Glueck - buena suerte!

  • Our 5-year old is starting kindergarten in August and will be in a dual immersion bilingual (Spanish-English) program. We are a monolingual English speaking family and she has not been at a bilingual preschool. She is excited that she will be learning Spanish, but she is definitely not clued into what exactly that will mean - 90% of her day will be in Spanish and 10% will be in English (the %age of instruction in English will increase by 10% every year until they get to 50/50 in 4th grade). I'm curious how other families preparing for bilingual kindergarten have prepped their English only kids for the transition. Our daughter is prone to anxiety so we are trying to walk a fine line between adequately preparing her and not causing her unnecessary worry. Thanks!

    I don't think you need to do anything specific. My kids were in a Chinese immersion school ((90% in target language /10% in English, as you describe) - the teachers will be very adept at using non-verbal communication during the first weeks/months. This *is* the immersion model - the kids are not aware of "learning" anything, it's just how things are. When you think about it, kids this age encounter many situations in which they may not "know" or understand exactly what's going on, even in English; they just follow along. Do whatever positive, encouraging things you would generally do to build her security about this next step in her life, and she will be fine. 

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Questions & Advice about Bilingual Schools

Language immersion school VS. an academic private school

Feb 2014

Hello Parents, We are trying to decide between sending our child to a wonderfully academic private school such as Bentley or Head Royce vs. a language-immersion school. I would LOVE to hear from any bilingual families who have chosen Head Royce or Bentley over a language school option. OR, even better, hear from families that transferred from a language program INTO Bentley or Head Royce. Can you tell me about your thought process? It is so hard to know how to prioritize learning a language vs. academic rigor!

Obviously, there is no 'right' answer, it is jut about finding what is 'right' for your family. So any tips/thoughts on this would be GREATLY appreciated. --Also, if you are a family who tried an academic program and then regretted that you had not made a language choice (or somehow managed to get in at a later date), I would love to hear your thoughts too! Thank you BPN community

I found your question interesting, particularly the following: ''It is so hard to know how to prioritize learning a language vs. academic rigor!''

In our experiennce, it isn't necessarily an either or choice; that is, it's possible to have an academically rigorous curriculum along with language immersion at a given school. A bilingual school typically follows two curricula and students are taught subjects such as math, history, geography among others in both languages simultaneously, with each covering different topics. The teachers in both languages for related subjects also coordinate their lesson plans and have weekly joint classes to help student make meaningful connections between the two curricula where appropriate. We consider this to be a challenging and academically rigorous environment and it has worked well for our son.

As with other schools, even within a bilingual academically rigorous school there are areas of relative strengths and potential weaknesses. For instance, at the bilingual school my son attends the math/geometry and social studies programs are strong, besides the obvious language program. However, they could be stronger in certain areas such as science and art (weakness is mainly in the upper elementary 3-5 grades, not in middle school). The school is actively addressing these issues by re-evaluating their lower school science and art program and considering ways to strengthen it.

Our thought process in choosing a bilingual and academically rigorous school was to check its academic track record, student placements, program longevity, teacher retention among other issues. We also felt strongly that if we were going to choose a private school, getting fully literate in a second language (where one is using that language to learn other subjects) would be a major academic plus. Our son is in his ninth year of bilingual school and we haven't yet regretted this choice. We, his parents, have no fluency in the second language. Possibly this has made him more independent, since he has to take full ownership of his work (homework/test studying etc) with little assistance from us. We did start our son right at the beginning, not at a later stage; however, some children we know started a year or so after and their experience is similar as well. Hope this helps. Jain

I think the good news is that you can have both language immersion and academic rigor. This has been good news for our family as well since both were a high priority in selecting a school for our children. We have our kids (Pre-K and 1st grade) at Escuela Bilingue Internacional (EBI). The core academic content is taught in Spanish (with English phased in as the children get older). The school is an International Baccalaureate (IB) school, and the curriculum is guided by the IB standards, internationally recognized for academic rigor and highly regarded in university admissions.

I see my kids learning all of the core content I would expect at the schools you mentioned, but doing so in Spanish. It has not been a trade-off at all, but rather the academic rigor and language immersion seem to enhance each other. Seeing that there is more than one way to live and speak in the world has helped my children to be more flexible thinkers, keenly attuned to detail and pattern and able to shift readily from one mode to another. In fact, numerous studies in recent years have shown the cognitive benefits of bilingualism.

As an educator myself, I keep a close eye on what my children are learning and how engaged they are in the process. I see my first grader devouring books in both languages and making up challenging mental math problems at the dinner table. I see her investigating weather and climate in far corners of the world and the excitement in her eyes as she shows me a science project. Not only have my kids been intellectually challenged, but they have also truly enjoyed learning.

I hope that helps, and best wishes to you in your search! EBI Parent

You ask for guidance in choosing between academic rigor (you name Head Royce and Bentley) and language immersion for your child. These were also very important values to us when we chose a kindergarten for our child. We are both professors, and have thought a lot about teaching and what kind of education we want for our child. Our child was offered a spot at one of the schools you name, but we opted for a language immersion school instead. Why did we do this? Because we found an immersion school that was academically rigorous, which felt like the best fit for our child and for our family. The school we chose is the Berkeley campus of the German International School of Silicon Valley. The German and American systems do differ in terms of when formal schooling begins. In American schools reading is formally taught in kindergarten. This doesn't happen till first grade in the German system, which is when children are thought to be developmentally ready for formal schooling (which is the view in a number of other European countries, as well). This means that in pre-K and Kindergarten in the German system there are precursor skills to reading (and math) being taught, but the kids are not expected to read. It didn't matter to us that academic rigor did not begin in kindergarten - in fact, it was a plus that our child had one more year to be a child, and could launch into rigorous learning when truly developmentally ready. I know this process of figuring out where to send your child for kindergarten can be agonizing - I certainly found it so - but spending time visiting the schools and talking to parents helped clarify what really felt like the best fit. In my opinion academic rigor and language immersion do not need to be competing values. We're very happy at GISSV. GISSV parent

I don't know the particulars of your situation (e.g. language you are interested in, child grade, etc) but I'm not sure it has to be an either/or choice in terms of academic rigor versus immersion. We are an English speaking household and chose to enroll our daughter at Ecole Bilingue de Berkeley for grades K - 8. We were interested in our daughter learning French and at the time considered other options including comparing the strength of the French language instruction at various non-immersion independent schools. In the end for us it came down to the fact that the immersion experience is a unique one. Kid's brains get ''wired'' differently with the immersion approach. If you are a bilingual household this may not be as much of a factor. Ecole Bilingue offered both rigorous academics and the immersion experience. Our daughter chose to attend Head Royce for high school and transitioned well (she had to consciously translate her geometry terms from French to English during Freshman math). She is now a Sophomore and is continuing in AP French with a great native speaking teacher at Head Royce. She sometimes bemoans ''losing her accent'' but is of course still fully fluent. Immersion Fan

I do not believe that ''language schools'' and ''academic schools'' are necessarily mutually exclusive. My child has been at the Escuela Bilingue Internacional (EBI) for going on six year now. Although we were initially attracted to the Spanish immersion aspect of the curriculum, we quickly learned that the International Baccalaureate (IB) program is equally, if not more important to our daughter's education. Academically rigorous, the IB curriculum is inquiry-driven and cross-disciplinary, and focuses all aspects of a child's growth while fostering a sense of self-confidence and love of learning. I have certainly witnessed this in my daughter over the years. The IB was developed 40 or so years ago by a group of educators in Geneva to create a consistent program for intentionally mobile students preparing for university (many of diplomats, I believe) and has grown into 4 programs for kids ages 3 – 18 offered in thousands of schools in almost 150 countries. You can find out more here: In addition to being fluent in English and Spanish, our daughter is now learning conversational Mandarin, and loves it. My husband is an academic and I grew up in a family of academics; we have all confidence that our daughter is receiving a challenging and exciting educational experience that will serve her well. Confident in both the language and academics at EBI

I think about this issue slightly differently as I believe you can and should have both: that is a language immersion program AND a great academic program.The two go together because learning languages in a bilingual environment help children problem solving skills and overall thinking (there are studies on this topic).

I have 3 children who are (or have been) in a bilingual program. Our personal experience at EB (Ecole Bilingue) is that you can have both an immersion program and high academic standards. EB programs have been developed to follow the US/Californian standards as well as the French standards (which are very academically focused) and our children have benefited from the best of both worlds. Because EB is an immersion program they do not take class time to learn a language but rather they teach 80% (then 50% starting in 3rd grade)of the academic program in another language. My older son graduated last year and now goes to a very academically focused high school (College Prep); he made the transition smoothly and he is academically on par with students that have only been in a monolingual program (and in French III as a freshman) . I hope this helps. Helene

In spite of expecting to be at a language immersion school from nursery through to 8th grade, we ended up moving our daughter at the start of kindergarten. It was great to have had the view into the school and its social network (we made a lot of lasting friends!) from the pre-k vantage point. While fabulous in many ways -- the resultant bilingualism being at the top of the list -- we were able to determine that language immersion was not for us. Language immersion comes with immersion in the values and systems of the culture from which that language emanates. In our case, there wasn't alignment. It took us awhile to come to grips with giving up our dream of bilingualism for our child, but we went with our values instead and for us it was the right thing to do. Another parent

Immersion school for gifted kids?

Dec 2013

I am interested in how the private immersion programs (EB, EBI, GISSV) handle kids who are gifted. I toured GISSV recently and didn't ask that specific question, but wanted some current parent feedback. It seemed like a school that would be challenging, and therefore not boring for an advanced learner. I'm leaning toward immersion programs in general because my son shows an aptitude for foreign language, and I think that in and of itself would engage him at school. He can be sensitive and slow to warm, and it also seemed like a good fit for a kid who needs some structure. I'd love feedback about any of these programs from the perspective of gifted kids.

Our son goes to GISSV. I think due to the small class sizes the teachers are really good at differentiation, e.g. in math, where they work a lot with work sheets, not all kids get the same worksheets. The more advanced ones get more challenging ones.

My impression of the school is that all the teachers work incredibly hard for each kid to be as successful and learn as much as they can. A couple of years ago they had a kid (who has since moved away) that attended class in some subjects at his grade level and in some subjects one grade level up. The idea was for him to eventually jump a grade but not all subjects at once. Happy GISSV mom

May I make another suggestion to consider? It continues to surprise me that people don't mention Shu Ren International School in the same breath as EB, EBI, & GISSV when discussing private immersion schools, though I guess at 5 1/2 years old they are kind of the new kid on the block! That said, I have my very bright daughter there and have been continually impressed. They are a Mandarin-immersion, official International Baccalaureate (IB) school and extremely committed to inquiry-based learning. It is very child-centered and kids are continually challenged to work at the level most appropriate for them and to engage creatively with their lessons. No rote learning and the projects seem to really engage her. It has also struck us as a very caring, nurturing environment. Just my two cents- something to consider! Happy Parent

I have two children at Ecole Bilingue. The opportunity to learn in two languages is definitely a way to engage and challenge a bright child. Children can really thrive by receiving a bilingual education. Academic research shows that it can open the mind in a number of ways, such as cultural awareness and improved multi-tasking abilities. While I would not consider my children gifted, they are smart and spirited, and the school has taken the initiative to address their individual needs in different ways while providing an exceptionally nurturing and holistic education. The school has designed a very impressive methodology for teaching the two languages and leveraging the unique curriculum to meet both French national and CA state requirements. Students greatly benefit from the English and French curriculum collaboration and structured approach because they have the opportunity to gain insights on, for example, ways to express oneself or ways to do math and they can compare and contrast them. In 2nd grade the school took the initiative to test my older son and recommended to us he skip 2nd grade and enter 3rd grade mid-year. They provided him with extra one-on-one tutoring in French to support this move up for 3 months. Now he is in 5th grade and the transition has been seamless. The teachers provide him with thoughtful extra class and homework when it is needed to challenge him. The small class size (~15) supports the individualized attention as well as the looping system ( student has same class and teachers for 2 years in a row – this happens for 1st and 2nd and then again for 4th and 5th) that enables teachers to really get to know the children, and their respective strengths and weaknesses. The teachers are not only teaching academic subjects and skills but life skills. For example, my son’s teacher gives all the homework for the week on Monday and then the child makes a weekly workplan and develops self-organization skills.

For my younger son, after some testing, the school decided to have him enter 1st grade as the youngest child in the class by 1 year. The first month was an adjustment, the teachers in both English and French provided him with some extra emotional and social support and he has settled in and is doing very well academically and loving the teachers and the school.

Both children have very special relationships with both their English and French teachers as well as the many special subject teachers and staff overseeing the play yard and other activities. I highly recommend the school (and more broadly speaking bilingual education) and suggest you contact the school directly. I am also happy to answer more questions if you would like to email me directly. tc

You ask about how private immersion programs handle kids who are gifted. We are at GISSV and I can tell you what I have found. My experience is that the teacher-student ratio is so good, the teachers can give a fantastic amount of individualized attention to each child. (In my son's class of 15 kids there is a full time teacher and a full time intern). I saw this in the parent teacher conference this fall where I was impressed how well the teachers knew and understood my child. I have heard from other parents that the teachers, who go through a very long and rigorous training in Germany, get a lot of training on teaching across learning differences. What I've seen for myself is that they make learning fun in very creative ways, and that they are well able to teach children who are both native German speakers and those who are not. Some of the classrooms are mixed grade (including my son's), which both gives the kids a larger peer group to play with and allows for more differentiated education. Learning simultaneously in German (which we don't speak at home) and English has been a great challenge for my child but one that he has also not expressed any frustration about. He and I get to discuss how concepts get different names in different languages, how letters get pronounced differently in different languages, etc. It's exciting for me to see that his daily early elementary education comes with the knowledge that there is more than one way to think about things, just on the level of language. We've never given him any kind of intelligence test, but at parent-teacher conferences since preschool the teachers have uniformly described him as extreme on the scale of quick to learn. He has never reported being bored at school. Like yours, he would be described as slow to warm, and I've been very happy that the small size and warm feel have made GISSV a school where he feels very, very comfortable. And, yes, there is good structure to the program. Hope this helps. happy GISSV parent

I have found GISSV to have a very fluid learning environment - both socially and academically. The small class size enables the teachers to focus on each child's unique needs. Moreover, all of the teachers are extremely dedicated and energetic. Also, the kids know students from classes above and below them. So if they skip a grade or perhaps just do certain subjects with older kids, they are socially comfortable because they are still with friends. The teaching philosophy generally encourages questions, including why are we learning things to begin with. These sorts of questions give kids, gifted or not, a context for their education. And of course, offering your child an opportunity to learn another language is a fabulous gift, regardless of which language you choose. Satisfied GISSV Parent

So much of the answer to your question depends upon a. the level of giftedness of the child b. the level of flexibility of the school

I have no experience w/GISSV, but I do have experience w/applying, repeatedly, to other immersion schools. From what I've seen and heard, it seems most of the private schools, including the immersion schools, are fine at dealing with moderately gifted kids, mostly via differentiation, and much less frequently, with a grade-skip.

I have a child who tests (thus far, he's still young) at about 99.6th percentile on IQ tests. He was reading before he was 2. Neither ''differentiation,'' nor a single grade skip is enough, because he is easily 2-3 yrs ahead of cognitive expectations. Private schools, other than gifted schools, do not know what to do with children like these. They don't want to skip them 2-3 years ahead, because they are emotionally and physically, usually, still in synch with their chronological age peers. They don't fit, and the schools really are not equipped to deal w/kids so far outside the usual bell curve.

This year, my son is attending a public Spanish immersion program. He is officially a 1st grader at age 5, but attends 2nd grade for 2 subject periods during the day. It took a flexible principal, who is genuinely concerned with meeting the needs of *all* students, to make this happen. I can tell you this is not typical or usual. I combed the entire Bay Area to find something that would work, at least somewhat, for my son. is still imperfect, because it's much like fitting a square peg into a round hole. For a highly gifted kid, most schools are just not designed for them.

If you've got a moderately gifted kid, your options will be much wider, and schools will be much more receptive.

Good luck! gifted & bilingual mama

Public immersion schools in Oakland/Berkeley

Dec 2013

Hi all - I'm researching immersion programs in Oakland/Berkeley (preferably French or Spanish, but we're open to others as well). Our strong preference is to send our daughter to public school, but it looks like most of the immersion options are private. The only public option I have found so far is Manzanita SEED in Fruitvale. Does anyone have any experience with this school or with its principal, Katherine Carter? It's an expeditionary learning school (and part of the ''small schools'' initiative funded by Gates a few years ago that aimed to turn around under-performing schools). The student body draws primarily from low income families and is one of two schools in California to win the 2010 National Title for making huge strides in closing the achievement gap between poor and middle/upper-income students. All of that is part of what appeals to me about this school, but I want to make sure that the curriculum is rigorous enough academically. I'd love any insights that people have on the school, curriculum, student body, teachers, principal, etc. And what are people's thoughts on sending their child to school in Fruitvale (in terms of safety)? Are there any other public immersion programs in the East Bay that I should be looking at? Rikha

I've responded to a similar question once before. Oakland has 5 schools which offer Spanish/English dual immersion. They are: Melrose Leadership Academy, Manzanita Seed, Esperanza, Global Family School, and Community United. Oakland puts out a booklet which describes each of its schools, including those that offer the DI (dual immersion) program. I believe you can also print out the guide from their website. Esperanza parent

Importance of community in immersion schools?

Nov 2013

I am pondering the value of community as an attribute to elementary education. Specifically, we are considering an immersion program for one of my children who is good with languages (EBI, EB or GISSV). I have one (and only one) friend at an immersion school who tells me that while parents are friendly and concerned about their children, parents generally 'do their own thing' there. This seems different from friends I know with children at some other private schools that aren't language immersion programs.

I wonder, is this a language school issue?? - because of the mixing of cultures you are less likely to bond? OR is it because the school is new? I would love to hear from other parents - is this your experience? Is it a problem for you? Is there a sense of community? Have you made some good friends? Any other thoughts on language immersion challenges or the importance of community with regards to schooling would be appreciated! gigi

My impression at GISSV is that there is actually a sense of community. There are a number of school events that foster the parents getting together and at least for our family, we definitely have found friends there. Many families spend time together outside of school and some families carpool (some on a regular, some on an ''as needed'' basis). There is also a group of moms who meet every morning at school and then often take their dogs on a walk together. GISSV mom

We are America parents that moved back from Germany two years ago. We had our kids audit the GISSV School to make sure their language skills were good enough to attend the German immersion school. They loved it and so do we. There is a very strong community of parents that started the school (their kids are now in the 6th grade). They actively seeked us out when we were new and folded us into the school. It was a very similar experience to what we had in Germany and what I expect in any international school as kids come and go each year. GISSV just bought and old Berkeley public school and they have also actively integrated with the neighborhood. They throw a few parties each year that rival anything we attended in Germany. It is not only a language immersion; it is a great international experience. As far as the academics, the German curriculum is different from the IB or US curriculum. This is most obvious in Math. My kids do not have native speakers at home and we are working on getting additional speaking and listening opportunities for our kids. The school continues to surprise me with their patience for my children and their openness in talking about concerns I have. Good luck on your school hunt. Kathy

You ask about community at a language immersion school. From my experience at GISSV, there is a wonderful community, which is the antithesis of ''not mixing'' or ''doing your own thing.'' There are countless opportunities for parents and kids to get together and socialize, both through events organized by the school, and through ad hoc get togethers created by parents, whether dinner parties, hikes in Tilden or Claremont Canyon, Prosecco brunch, evening cocktails, going to ball games, birthday parties, parent-teacher choir, going to yoga class together, etc. My sense of many families is that the school is our primary community. I have formed good friendships with other parents.

You ask for other thoughts on language immersion challenges. My child started at GISSV with zero German, and is now fluent. I was nervous, but it worked! I have been really happy with the school - they know what they are doing. They also offer an incredible teacher-student ratio. I feel like my child is well understood and is being challenged and nurtured in a warm environment. We did an exhaustive search of where to go for kindergarten - public, private, language immersion and non - and decided that this was the school for us. We're very happy. happy GISSV parent

Our family (two kids) has been part of the GISSV (Berkeley) family for the past six years. During this time we were able to build valuable friendships with many other parents on campus. The school community is very welcoming with a majority of outgoing personalities. It doesn't matter what your background is, where you come from or what language you speak. At drop off in the morning, we often mingle at the playground and set up playdates for our children. If I cannot make it in time for pick-up there is always a handful of parents who I can call to help me out. I actually see a lot of ''chatting, hanging out and helping each other'' at the campus. It's a reliable and very tight school community that is extended in weekend activities (bbqs, football games with other families), ''girls'' nights out (for the moms) or even the celebration of Holidays together (Thanksgiving dinner). Since many GISSV families don't have grand parents, uncles or aunts in the Bay Area, this social network of other parents is often providing welcoming support in organizing and handling every day life tasks. I, personally, would not know what to do without the other mothers and can only say that everybody who is interested will get a chance to make friends! Happy and Social GISSV Mom

Hi, I cannot speak to the culture and community at EBI or EB, but I have a child at the German International School GISSV with a bilingual German/English curriculum.

In my mind, the community aspect is a very strong feature of the Berkeley GISSV campus. There is a mix of long-time residents and some expatriates. Most families have German language background, but not all, and expats are mostly, but not exclusively from German speaking countries.

Newcomers are typically included into the community right away, be it the dog-walking group (you can participate without a dog), coffee shop get-togethers, dinners, shared Thanksgiving, playdates for their kids, or organizing school community events together. They receive tips and tricks and advice on tpical newcomer problems. There is even a school fleamarket for furniture and electronics that outgoing expats sell to incoming expats when the timing is right.

For the entire community there are also annual skiing and annual camping trips for everybody who wants to. Of course, some people are more into socializing than others. But it is not unheard of that families visit each other on their respective home continents after their stint at GISSV, or open their houses during their own vacation to other visiting families.

Another aspect that I really like, is that the children learn about the different cultures present at our campus which is surprisingly multi-cultural for its relatively small size. This happens informally, but is also integrated into the curriculum or festivities. E.g. a Brazilian drum band has become a staple at our annual Karneval in February. Did I mention that we like to celebrate together? And mix our traditions and food specialties? Yes, there might be Bratwurst, but potlucks may also feature falafel, pakora, sushi, dim sum, or koshari.

Last, but not least, the school community is rather small, and this might not be for everybody. Some children will prefer a larger group for socializing, but my child profoundly benefits from small class sizes and individualized teaching.

There is much more to this school. Come, check it out!

Coming from a very community oriented preschool (El Cerrito Preschool Co-op) and not being a German speaker, I wasn't sure what the sense of community would be like at GISSV, but I have to say I've been so impressed so far. There have been numerous all school volunteer opportunities, parent and child parties and just parents parties too. I have found it very easy to get to know people and that the other families are warm and friendly. It helps that it is a small school. Melissa

Hi - Our family has been part of Escuela Bilingue Internacional (EBI) for almost 6 years and I cannot say enough about the community we have found there. Our daughter is thriving (fluent in Spanish, English, now taking conversational Mandarin and soaking in the world like a sponge by virtue of the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum) - but as much, my husband and I enjoy being a part of this diverse and interesting group of parents. We have made some of our closest friends within this populace. There are coordinated parents nights out in addition to a variety of social events, a strong parents association and a committed diversity group at which we can explore complex social issues relevant not only to our children but to us as well. Opportunities to take on roles within this community abound, and can be found no matter what one's level of availability. Parents may be from very different backgrounds, but in my experience these variances are seen as an opportunity to gain different perspective from each other. We are all learners, and strive to be examples for our kids as such. on the other side of the same coin, the EBI parent community is one which really likes to play. A lot! It's a good balance.

As with any community, there is a level of reaping what you sow. I am sure there are parents who do not take advantage of the many opportunities for involvement, but as one who plunged right in, I could hardly be happier. EBI parent who likes to work and play

Hello, I have been a parent at GISSV Berkeley since 2007. From my experience there is a great sense of community. There are several celebrations throughout the year that are just for the school community, like a Halloween potluck, a Lanternfest, parent choir, an annual camping trip,... Many parents do car pooling and there is a group of women who walk their dogs every morning. Many parents have help me out in a pinch and watched the kids on short notice, which makes a real difference. GISSV mom of 2

I have been a parent at 4 different East Bay Independent schools. Of those 4, EBI makes considerably more effort to create connections and community between parents. It's only November and I can think of countless activities this year for parents to get to know each other. It's always encouraged for parents to talk to someone they don't know at events as well and people actually do. Every Friday there is coffee on the playground set up for parents. I have found everyone at EBI to be very welcoming to our family who joined in Kindergarten instead of pre-k. I think in general you end up making friends with the parents of your child's friends and if you do volunteering or attend meetings at whatever school you attend you will find community there. Welcomed at EBI

For me, community is a very important part of our kids' elementary education, for a lot of reasons, with various direct and indirect benefits to them and to me and their mom. My wife and I work in the same part of Cal and are transplants to the Bay Area, so our kids' schools are important sources of community for us.

Our daughter is in kindergarten, her third year at Escuela Bilingue Internacional (EBI), and we have found the community to be a very important part of her and our experience. (Our son is still a toddler.) We see many strengths in EBI, which was why we decided to continue here for elementary school rather than go public (which we thought very seriously about).

One of the most important strengths was the community of parents and kids that we had already become part of and felt very comfortable and happy in. We have moved around a bit, and our daughter has attended four other schools/daycares. Of the five, EBI and one other place have had much stronger parent/family communities than the other three -- really thriving, warm, and connected. We feel very close to many particular other families, and connected in a really meaningful way to all of those at EBI.

I don't think the language affects the community negatively at all. None of the other places our daughter has attended had a language component (full or partial immersion) and one had a community that was as strong as EBI (but no stronger), and the others' communities were weaker. I actually can see the language component strengthening community, because there is an important, particular goal for our kids that we all share -- becoming fluent in Spanish and English -- beyond the goals universal to pretty much all parents.

EBI's curriculum and values, based on the International Baccalaureate model, are also particular to this community of parents and very important to our decision to come and stay at EBI. But that's not exactly what Gigi asked about. Jamie

I cannot speak to the sense of community at either private or immersion schools, but since you also asked about the importance of community in schools in general, I believe I am well-qualified to answer! Our public elementary school has a very strong community. More than half of the students live in the neighborhood which also has a community-building effect. Many parents walk their children to school and then linger on the playground to get to know one another. Same thing at pickup--kids tear around the playground while parents chat. Carpooling for after-school and weekend activities is common and easily facilitated because many of the parents know eachother. Because most of the private schools draw students from all over the East Bay, I know many of them have the long carpool line where parents sit in their cars during dropoff/pickup. You wondered if perhaps the parents coming from different cultures at a bilingual school may hinder community-building and I think you are probably correct. The parents walking their children to school at our school are mainly of a similar racial/socio-economic group. I guess my short answer is that, yes, a sense of community is very important at school. Community-building mom

Hi Gigi, We have been at EB for 4 years.This school has now 50 nationalities. It is a blend of many cultures and races.I can not express enough how happy we have been with this.It's an amazing experience for both our kids and us as parents.Our kids and we as parents have made great friends and we never felt any separation in our school community. We are glad we found a school that offers great academics and this kind of environment to prepare our kids. I would love to invite you to come to some of the events such as our'' World celebration day'' or ''the Marche''or a tour in the classes if you have not done so yet. Michelle

I am a parent of two kids at the German School (GISSV) and I have had exactly the opposite experience of what you are describing. I am American and chose GISSV because I wanted my kids to have a bilingual education. They are getting a great education. At the same time we have become part of an amazing community. Many of my best friends have come from the school. Not only are there a lot of activities at the school (like a parent singing group, a dog walking group, parties, etc.), but many parents tend to mingle before and after school. The school is subsidized by the German government. The subsidy goes to the school itself and NOT just to families who happen to have a German passport. The resulting demographic is NOT just Germans and, perhaps partly due to the subsidy, not just dr.'s and lawyers (although my husband is a lawyer and I am an artist). The parents have all sorts of occupations/livelihoods. Most of our friends from school live in and around Berkeley permanently - although some do eventually move from or back to other countries after living here for a few years. This gives our kids a broad view of the world. It has also given us the opportunity to visit friends overseas. If you want to get a better idea of what to expect, you could show up someday when school lets out and introduce yourself to someone... or feel free to email me. sks

Hi - I HAD to respond to this because our experience has been the complete opposite to what your friend told you. Our preschooler just started at EBI this fall and already we've been to various birthday parties and playdates. Parents also invited his whole class (via the parents) to play at a local park after school several times from the beginning and there's been get-togethers for just the parents as well. This doesn't even include the volunteer work (you don't have to participate but it's VERY easy to find yourself doing it and meeting other parents while you do) or the activities like La Vuelta - the cycling event at which my husband and a friend participated. We've met several parents whom we're becoming friends with and had a couple of occasions where we run into one of my son's classmates and end up hanging out for a few hours. If you're interested in belonging to a community (not just in your child's class but of many ages), I really believe you'll find EBI a wonderful place for BOTH you and your child. I encourage you to visit and talk to other parents there - informational sessions always have parent volunteers on hand to help answer questions. Good luck! Gabriela, EBI Pre-K Mom

Regarding EBI & community, we've been there a few years and it's got your typical range of parents who don't engage at all to parents/families that have engaged/shown-up/volunteered so much that they are super-connected and off doing impressive vacations, camping, dinners, hikes, ski leases and more together. So I think it's up to each parent to find what interests and motivates them. At EBI, community seems pretty core to the PTA activities, too. They host a FRI coffee every week that helps parents (who have the time) hang out and chat in a relaxed manner after they drop off kids. In both my kids' classes, we've had class parents that work pretty hard to make sure everyone is having opportunities to meet one another in playdates and even parent happy hours. I've appreciating getting to know other families that don't live in my relatively-homogenous neighborhood and learning about their cultures. That's my take. EBI Parent

Responding to your question about community at EBI: This is our 4th year at the school and I consider so many of the parents at the school to be my closest friends. The community is incredibly special and I feel so lucky to be a part of it. We most definitely have a mixture of cultures and people who do/don't speak Spanish, but this fact does not feel like an impediment to making great friends. The kids in the schools are also remarkable people. I hear from new parents that the kids are so welcoming to new kids at every grade level- which I think is so wonderful. The community also reaches out to new families so that they will feel welcomed and included. There are also so many ways to get to know other families, from Friday morning coffees to special events and classroom activities. I really recommend EBI- it is such an important part of my life as well as my son's! EBI parent

Looking for a list of language immersion programs

May 2013

Hello, I am starting to look for a language program or school for my daughter, who will have to change schools in third grade next year. Unfortunately we are not quite in the Berkeley area: we live in Castro Valley, so I would be interested in a radius that includes maybe San Ramon, Pleasanton, Dublin, Hayward, San Leandro, San Lorenzo and thereabouts. I haven't found a whole lot in internet yet. Does anybody know of a list of dual language schools or programs? Or maybe an organization that would help me find them? Any information you could give me is greatly appreciated. Or if you have tried any dual language school in this area, would you mind sharing your opinion? Thank you JM

Here is a list of 2-way immersion schools in California put together by the CA Dept of Education:

Keep in mind that they may not have any recently formed immersion schools on this list. Neither Manzanita Seed nor Melrose Leadership, both in Oakland, were on this list even though they have started their Spanish Immersion programs 3-4 years ago. There are a number of immersion schools in the Hayward/Livermore areas. Good luck! anon

Life after immersion school?

Sept 2012

This is a question for families whose children completed K-5 immersion programs, then went onto English-only middle and high schools. Did the immersion language ''stick''? Or did your child lose fluency and interest in the language from middle school onward? If your child was in immersion from K-8, is there a much better outcome in retaining the language?

Just some of the questions I'm contemplating as our great K-5 immersion experience will soon come to a close. BTW we are in private K-8 French immersion program but are considering moving to Piedmont for middle and high school. We will do public high school for sure, but are contemplating whether it's worth the financial investment to continue in immersion 6-8. We all speak French, but are anglophones and default toward English at home. Immersion mom

Full disclosure -- I'm an employee at Ecole Bilingue de Berkeley. But I'm also a parent there, and I wanted to offer the perspective of someone with older kids. I have two stepkids and a daughter at Berkeley High, and another child in middle school at EB. This time last year, I was looking at the possibility of having my youngest go to public middle school in Marin County, where her dad lives.

French is a great part of EB's program, and middle school definitely helps them solidify it. The kids do more writing, read more interesting books in French, and their understanding of the language ''gels.'' It's hard to explain, but it's similar to the moment when your kid goes from practicing piano to just playing it. My kids' friends who left EB tend to have trouble maintaining their French if they don't speak it at home, but that varies from family to family.

But for me, there are other parts of the program that are just as compelling as the language immersion, and those were what tipped the scales in favor of having my youngest stay at EB. I asked my high schoolers what advice they would give you, and here's what they said:
''EB teaches you perfect study habits -- when you reach high school you know how to organize your time, and you've already covered some of the material in your freshman classes.''
''Middle School is awkward no matter where you go, but at EB you know that there are people looking out for you. They work really hard to prevent bullying and make sure nobody falls through the cracks.''
''You get to go through the transformation [from kid to teenager] in an environment where everybody cares about education, and by the time you hit high school you're pointed in the right direction.'' All of these ring true with my experience as a parent. There are lots of good schools out there, and lots of ways to give your child a good start for high school and beyond. But EB has worked really well for my family, for reasons that go way beyond language. another immersion mom

What happens after 8 years of Language Immersion?

March 2011

We are strongly considering enrolling our child into one of the local Foreign Language Immersion schools for Kindergarten. We are excited about the prospect of having a bilingual child for cultural, cognitive and other reasons, but are uncertain about what will become of the language once they are in high school, with no local ''Immersion'' high school options. Did your child go through an immersion K-8? Was having that 2nd language useful in a practical sense after they attended high school/college? Any strategies for retaining a language if we (parents) are not speakers of that 2nd language? Do high schools offer advanced language classes to support kids that had K-8 immersion?? Any advice or anecdotes appreciated. Thanks! Language mom

Our daughter was in a French-American school for K-8. Both parents are English speakers but had studied French in school. French-American schools follow the French national curriculum and use the same textbooks used in France, the idea being that a child from France should be able to spend a year abroad and return to France without losing a year. I observed that even young children vary in their ability to learn and be comfortable in a second language, but our daughter did fine. In our experience, immersion is especially good for learning the spoken language. At the end of middle school, our daughter had an excellent accent, understood spoken French very well, read reasonably well, and was able to generate a verbal response quickly and confidently, but not with a very large vocabulary. With my 3 years of high school French and two in college, I had a much better command of grammar and a richer, more mature vocabulary. I was better at expressing complex thoughts and more precise in my expression, although I produced the words more slowly and in an accent that was not pleasing to the French ear.

There were unanticipated side effects of the French-American system: math was taught using different techniques and definitions (so much for math being a universal language), creating some confusion and making it hard for parents to help with homework; math word problems were sometimes hard for the wrong reason, using everyday French expressions that an American child wouldn't have encountered (e.g. a problem about gas mileage using the equivalent of ''fill her up with high octane''); and even in 8th grade, the American students I knew couldn't express themselves well enough in writing to learn principles of good composition in French. Because of differences in the curriculum, she had to work extra hard in 9th grade in English and Science, but caught up after one tough semester.

Entering high school, she was offered the option of either French 3 or 4. To this day, she's convinced that she made the right choice with 3 because she needed a solid grammar review (and a few peers went into French 2). With immersion she had confused verb forms that have the same sound but different spellings, and she often didn't know the reasons behind the grammar she heard. She took French 3, 4, and 5, aced both French AP's and the French SAT. She had a native speaker teacher one or two of those years, and no French her senior year. In college she minored in French and spent a term in Paris. By then, her accent had lost something, but still impressed the French. They wouldn't have mistaken her for a native speaker, but could've sworn that her mother was French (her surname is English) or that she lived in France as a young child. She describes herself as fluent, but not bilingual, and was able to use the language in an internship in France after college graduation, If the opportunity ever arises for her to use French in her work, she would do very well. As an adult, she appreciates having had the opportunity to learn a second language when she was young, though it was not without its trade-offs and difficulties. une maman americaine

Life after bilingual Spanish preschool

Aug 2006

e're planning to enroll our daughter in preschool in Fall 2007, when she'll be almost 3. We've started looking into preschools and are considering bilingual Spanish/English -- we're on the Centro Vida list but pretty far down. Our daughter has a Spanish-speaking nanny and, at 21 mos, speaks and understands quite a lot of Spanish (mas uvas and mas sandia being among her favorite words). As for her parents, one of us speaks a lot of Spanish and the other speaks a tiny bit, but neither of us is fluent nor Latino.

Why I'm writing: I'm looking for advice from Berkeley families with older kids who can explain our options. I've heard anecdotally that it's hard for non-native speakers to get into the Spanish immersion program(s) in Berkeley elem. schools. But I know no details. I also know that given that we don't speak Spanish at home, it's highly unlikely that she'll end up fluent, but still, we'd love it if she continued to spend at least part of her day speaking Spanish.

So I'm wondering if anyone would be willing to briefly map out the possibilities for us. Other than Centro Vida, what other preschools speak Spanish at least some of the time? Then on to kindergarten, elem. school: what are her options for speaking Spanish? Are all the programs impossible for non-native speakers to get into? Some might suggest that we just enroll her in an afterschool Spanish class in a couple years, but before we give up on the idea of Spanish immersion I'd love to hear what others' experiences have been. Thanks! wondering where this is leading

There is a great option to Centro Vida, and it will take your child all the way to 8th grade. Escuela BilingC We have only one Dual Immersion program in our city, so we began going to the meetings years in advance to get as much information on Spanish biliteracy as possible. We also thought it would help on any future wait lists. It did not. My husband intended to arrive at the application drop off three hours early, but he overslept and arrived one hour before the school office opened. He was the 30th person in line since folks had been lining up six hours earlier! Because the program in kindergarten concentrates on 80-90% Spanish, students are not invited/ allowed after K, so that's it. We were asked to commit to at least five years of biliteracy, with a younger sibling= 10 years of dual immersion. Or kids' entire future of fluency is down the tubes because of a few hours not spent in line. My wish is that these programs would expand to more schools Looking At DH Angrily

We have only one Dual Immersion program in our city, so we began going to the meetings years in advance to get as much information on Spanish biliteracy as possible. We also thought it would help on any future wait lists. It did not. My husband intended to arrive at the application drop off three hours early, but he overslept and arrived one hour before the school office opened. He was the 30th person in line since folks had been lining up six hours earlier! Because the program in kindergarten concentrates on 80-90% Spanish, students are not invited/ allowed after K, so that's it. Our kids did not get in. Interested families were asked to commit to at least five years of biliteracy because English would not be concentrated until 3rd-4thgrades, (with a younger sibling this would amount to 10 years of dual immersion). Or kids' entire future of Spanish fluency is down the tubes because of a few hours not spent in line. Our parents are Spanish speaking immigrants but we are English only. Unfortunately, bilingualism was frowned upon in the seventies! My wish is that these Immersion programs would expand to more classrooms/ schools Looking At DH Angrily

Escuela Bilingue Internacional! Our son only knows 2 Spanish words but starting next month will be immersed in total Espanol for 4+ hours per day 5 days per week. We do not speak Spanish at home either, but wish we did! We were able to get him into the preschool program for 3 year olds without a lengthy wait. Check out the website and stay tuned- this is a new school on the Berkeley border but has such amazing people and great energy that I know it will be an incredible place for our son to learn and grow. It is only through kindergarten this year, but has plans for schooling up to high school in the future. It is a private school, but is costing us less than our shared nanny did. Come to some of the information meetings and see what you think. We are very excited about the coming year and are working with the other parents to make it a wonderful place to learn and be a kid EBI parent

The program at Washington Elementary School in Point Richmond is in its 3rd year in the 06-07 school year and I've heard nothing but rave reviews about it. I'm posting specifically to the person signed ''DH Angrily'' who was frustrated that the lottery system did not select her children for the Spanish immersion program in her city. I just wanted to let you know that I heard that Washington program still accepts children into the program in 1st grade. So even if your children were not immersed during Kindergarten, there may still be a way for their Spanish education if you're willing to travel to Point Richmond. It is definitely worth checking out if it is that important to you. Good luck! anon