News: M-A Announces Plans to Offer Mandarin as a Foreign Language
Principal Matthew Zito recently revealed intentions to establish a Mandarin foreign language program at M-A starting in the fall semester of 2014. A series of requests from district parents in addition to the projected rise in enrollment prompted the administration to add the new program, which Zito predicts will draw a small, but growing, group of students for the upcoming year.
“There was certainly a lot of interest from a vocal group of parents from the Las Alamedas district, La Entrada,” recalls Zito. Parents from the Menlo Park school district also expressed interest, as multiple parents had enrolled their children in online Mandarin courses.
However, Zito recognizes the educational limitations of this approach. “I think language is one of the trickier things to do on an online basis because you don’t have the interaction in the classroom and the oral practice,” qualities he hopes to provide through the new program.
The long-term welfare of the language program in light of the planned redistricting also played a role in the decision. “Presently, having Mandarin might redirect students from other languages, but we are going to grow and we will be able to accommodate a fourth language.”
Additionally, China’s prominence in the international stage was also factored in. “It seemed a direction, both geopolitically as well as culturally, that would interest students,” comments Zito.
Uncertainty remains regarding the success of the program, as “it is, for some people, quite a challenge to be able to master the language because it is not a romance language.”
Despite these potential setbacks, the administration aims to parallel the Mandarin track to the Latin track at M-A, with one teacher instructing multiple levels of the language.
Beyond the first couple years, which will feature the first two levels, Zito feels obligated to include an AP program for “the competitive college admissions landscape.”
Although the process of establishing a language program that extends to the scope of an AP level course demands more planning than a corresponding middle-school program, this process will be facilitated by the existence of Mandarin courses at Carlmont and Woodside, fellow members of the Sequoia Union District. Thus these Mandarin courses are already approved at the district level.
The bigger challenges lie in “the start-up expenses.” These expenses include instructional materials and support materials, as well as the salary of the new teacher to be hired later in the school year.
Also daunting is “the realization that the class will not immediately self-fund itself.”
Thus, the class, which will likely have less than 27 students, will drive up class sizes in other subjects without a subsidy to minimize the effects.
In the meantime, the administration’s focus is on “getting all the pieces in place, making sure we have students for the program, and having the year more or less mapped out.”