Oregon: Fair aims to attract interest in Chinese language school

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Sat Nov 1 14:26:50 UTC 2008

Fair aims to attract interest in Chinese language school
By Anne Williams

The Register-Guard

Published: Oct 31, 2008 05:40PM

Organizers of a Chinese language and education fair set for Saturday
hope to share with the broader community what they already know: The
Chinese language is fun, the culture well worth celebrating. They also
have a more specific aim: to drum up interest in a Mandarin Chinese
immersion school.
Nearly five months after the Eugene School Board gave district staff
members the go-ahead to craft a proposal for such a school, boosters
continue to work behind the scenes to promote the idea, dispel
misperceptions and attract the attention of families whose
preschoolers might be able to take advantage of the program. The fair
grew out of those efforts, said Kay Shaver, a steering committee
member of Advocates for Chinese Immersion Education.

The event will include presentations and information about Chinese
immersion education, a Lion Dance by the Chinese American Benevolent
Association of Eugene, calligraphy, chopstick games, Chinese paper
cuts and more. Both mayoral candidates — incumbent Kitty Piercy and
Eugene School Board member Jim Torrey — are scheduled to speak.

"The purpose of a fair is, first, to have fun," said Shaver, who hopes
to enroll her 3-year-old adopted Chinese daughter, Emily, in the
school, which probably would begin as kindergarten only and expand as
children moved to higher grades.

"But in the process of having fun we're hoping the community can
become a little more familiar with the Chinese language and learn more
about immersion education, and Chinese immersion education in

Shaver was among dozens of proponents who lobbied the school board
during the Shaping 4J's Future process last spring, asking for a green
light to launch a school by fall 2009. In June, the board agreed to
proceed with a proposal, but the opening date was pushed off to fall
2010 at the earliest.

Board members found the arguments in favor of Chinese immersion —
China's global ascendency, the popularity of the district's other
immersion programs, evidence of the educational benefits of language
immersion at a young age — compelling.

But they said there are still many unanswered questions — including
where the school would be located, and how well it would mesh with
broader goals to strengthen neighborhood schools, ensure equitable
access to district programs and close the achievement gap separating
students by income level, English ability and race/ethnicity.

The district is researching those issues, as well as more nitty-gritty
matters such as budget, curriculum and staffing, said Abby Lane, who
coordinates the district's English Language Learner programs and has
been overseeing plans for Chinese immersion.

Lane said she isn't sure how specific the plan will be about location,
which continues to be a sticky question.

There's widespread agreement the school should land in the Churchill
High School region — it's the only high school region without an
elementary-through-high-school language immersion program (Sheldon has
Spanish, North Eugene Japanese and South Eugene French).

But the list of potential locations is short, and each is problematic.
While Superintendent George Russell initially recommended that Adams
Elementary consider Chinese immersion as part of an ongoing effort to
boost low enrollment, survey results of parents in the attendance area
found scant interest. Adams is no longer an option, Lane said, though
she noted the school community could always reconsider.

Even though some buildings might have extra room, sharing a
neighborhood school campus is off the table, too, given the board's
recently adopted policy prohibiting future co-location of alternative
and neighborhood elementary schools.

That presumably means a school would have to be willing to trade in
its existing neighborhood program, transforming itself into an
alternative, or choice, school. Those schools enroll by lottery,
although it's possible the Chinese immersion school could give
priority to neighborhood children.

Lane said placing the school at the old Bailey Hill Elementary
building, currently used for several educational programs, doesn't
look feasible, either.

"That is the difficulty — we don't want to 'impose' this on any school
that doesn't want it," said Lane, noting that, should the board choose
to move ahead, it might necessitate "tough decisions."

Meanwhile, Shaver and Helen Liu, another steering committee member,
said they haven't sensed a lag in momentum, despite the setback on

"Everywhere we go, I hear people say positive things about it," said
Liu, who had 40 students enrolled in her University of
Oregon-sponsored Chinese language camp last summer. "Most people seem
very supportive."

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