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In Pasadena, some students are learning in Spanish or Chinese

September 24, 2012 |  9:55 am


For about 450 Pasadena public elementary school students, classroom time means reading, writing and doing arithmetic -- not in English but in Spanish or Chinese.

The Pasadena Unified School District’s language immersion programs started three years ago with a few dozen English-speaking kindergartners and first-graders. Classes aim for an equal balance of students who know only English and those who come in speaking at least some Spanish or Chinese.

Now the effort goes through 4th grade and, as evidence that the trend is growing, one in eight children who started kindergarten in the district this fall volunteered to be part of the program.

"I think it’s one of the greatest gifts you can give to kids today," said West Pasadena Residents Assn. Vice President Catherine Stringer, whose children attend Spanish immersion classes at San Rafael Elementary School.

In response to growing demand, the district began offering Spanish immersion preschool classes at San Rafael earlier this month. A second Spanish immersion program was launched with kindergartners at Jackson Elementary School in Altadena.

Mandarin Chinese immersion classes at Field Elementary School on Pasadena’s east side have also expanded from two to three kindergarten classes, pushing enrollment in Field’s K-through-4 program above 200.

Pasadena’s immersion programs require students to use Spanish or Chinese for about 90% of class time during kindergarten, gradually introducing more English in later grades, said teacher and program coordinator Amanda Schwartz. She enrolled her own daughter in the Chinese program.

"They serve as language models for each other," said Schwartz. "I told my daughter to pay attention to those who understand the teacher … and they do translation for each other."


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-- Joe Piasecki, Times Community News

Photo: Students draw characters in first-grade Mandarin class at Field Elementary School in Pasadena. Credit:  Raul Roa / Pasadena Sun