The future is immersion schools.
The world is shrinking and business more global, but this isn’t why kids should immerse themselves in a 2nd language. 2nd languages make kids smarter – in English. Apparently Chinese even more so with better scores in math to boot.
Our experience is a case in point.
Minnesota requires 3 year olds to take a kindergarten readiness test. My first born took the test 3 times before passing. 4 years later, we received notice our now 7 year old was qualified to attend the Capital Hill Magnet School for Gifted and Talented Students.
Who gets credit? My son’s ‘pull himself up from his bootstraps’ hard work? A sink or swim year in Nicaragua for kindergarten, followed by a sink or swim 1st grade year at Jie Ming’s Chinese Immersion Program? Something we did as parents?
I give Jie Ming A LOT of credit and I wouldn’t leave the school for all the tea in China.
What I’ve read about high achieving kids show two themes. One, either rich parents. Or two, participation in programs that make kids feel special, chosen, and important.
The culture at Jie Ming excels at the latter. Joyfulness, high expectations, big dreams, belief and awe in the kids’ abilities all ooze from the teachers and administration. The school uniform policy, God bless it, minimizes the outward signs of who has more money.
The high expectations are coupled with a gentleness, enthusiasm, and matter of fact guidance that have helped our son excel.
It’s not enough to know math. Kids should improve how fast it can be done. It’s not enough to write Chinese characters. Characters should be written small and be pretty. Don’t just write, write something meaningful. Don’t wait to be told, do what needs to be done. Don’t wait for high school or college to travel abroad, do it in 5th grade – every year for every class!
At every school event, Jie Ming reiterates how brave the kids are, how amazing they are, and how committed the staff is to making the kids and the program the best they can be. In class, they sing, dance, play games, watch videos, read independently, sit in circles on the floor and actively participate as they learn.
In the process, Jie Ming gives each student a priceless gift – each student learns the impossible is possible.
The whole truth…
This adjustment – from feeling impossibly lost to achieving and understanding – is difficult.
My son was an emotional basket case while adjusting to his new school. Moody, crying, joyful, laughing, proud, lashing out, needing cuddles, needing space – all in the same afternoon. Everyday. From September until Christmas.
For the 2nd time we put him in a new school, new friends, new city, new home, new language, new culture.
And this time, there was homework. Every day. Chinese words, handwriting, math. After school became a family battleground. Our 1st grader wanted nothing to do with it. Dad wanted it done – all of it. I empathized with both sides, I knew some homework was valuable, but wasn’t convinced a lot was. Mostly we got it done – although it took up to 2 painful hours to get through it. (Chinese translation apps on smart phones and the teacher’s extra lessons for parents/students together were so helpful.) But some days it didn’t happen – sometimes a family activity, or visitors, or exhaustion took over. More on this later (there is a happy ending).
Sometimes his irritability was hunger related.
Me: Why aren’t you eating your lunch?
Ian: I don’t like what you pack.
I adjust and purchase meal tickets. I remind him he can always go through the lunch line.
Me: Why aren’t you eating your lunch? I know you like noodles/gallo pinto/etc.
Ian: I couldn’t get the thermos open.
Me: Isn’t there someone to help?
Ian: I don’t know how to ask in Chinese.
My first call to the school.
Me: Are people around to help during lunch?
School: Of course! He just needs to raise his hand. We will be sure to check on him too.
Me: He’s scared to ask because he doesn’t know the words in Chinese.
School: He can ask however he needs, English words, hand gestures, Chinese. We encourage Chinese but the kids can communicate however they need.
I assured my son to ask for help in English, with hand gestures. Anyway he could. The Chinese would come.
Me: Why aren’t you eating your lunch? You are asking for help right?
Ian: There isn’t enough time to eat.
I call the school again.
School: Yes, the kids are so excited at lunch. It’s when they can finally talk freely in English, they want to talk, and they forget to eat!
We discussed how to help this. Lunch is staggered by classes, so when the kindergartners left, that was a clue only 5 minutes remained to finish eating.
The teachers and Bobbie Johnson – who is now the principal – were so kind to my son. They checked on him regularly and helped him through the transition of getting used to new schedules and expectations.
A memory that warms my heart.
During these early rocky days two classmates transferred out. While telling me this, my son said, “I don’t know where ‘Johnny’ is going, but it’s okay for ‘Sally’ because she’s going to a Spanish school, so she’s still doing something important.’
My son understood he was doing something important! He understood learning languages was challenging but valuable. Today, he feels proud he’s achieved something most adults can’t do – speak, read, and write Chinese and English fluently.
About that homework.
I don’t know what teachers said or did when homework wasn’t done, but it had an impact. He wants to do his homework. It’s not a battle. It takes at most 15 minutes, without help, without cajoling. His handwriting has improved dramatically and he calculates math in his head faster than I do on paper. In 2nd grade now, his reading skills in English have skyrocketed.
We moved 80 miles north so our kids could do the important work of becoming valuable world citizens.
Thank you Jie Ming for believing in our kids. For dreaming big. For expecting big things.
Thank you St. Paul for nurturing and growing immersion schools.
I wish for all elementary kids to be given the gift of a second language. It’s the ultimate 2 for 1. Twice the learning with all other factors the same. The self esteem given to kids when they can do something adults find difficult is priceless.
It begins again.
Last week was Jie Ming’s open house for kindergartners. Our youngest was excited, shy, proud, nervous, scared all in the same hour. The roller coaster ride to the finish line begins again.