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The Mandarin classroom, like other dual-immersion schools, is built around instruction that is 90 percent Mandarin. Eventually, instruction will be evenly split between the two languages. (Photo credit: Nuria Marquez Martinez)

Contra Costa’s new Mandarin dual-immersion school equals uncertainty for adult-ed programs in district

on October 6, 2017

Every morning at 9 a.m., teacher Xu Gong’s kindergarten class kids sits cross-legged on a bright blue and red rug while going through their morning routine: greetings, then the calendar, and finally counting to ten. A typical Richmond classroom — except for the fact that everyone is speaking in Mandarin.

The Chinese Mandarin dual-immersion program, approved by the school board this past February, welcomed its first three 24-student kindergarten classes in August at the Serra School in Richmond. Like the already established Spanish immersion program, students will begin learning the language from day one, with 90 percent of class instruction in Mandarin.

While the opening of the program has presented new opportunities for the district and its families, it’s brought challenges as well, including an uncertain future for the adult education program.

Previously, the Serra campus was solely occupied by the West Contra Costa Adult Education program. But after approval of the new Mandarin school, some adult classes and the main adult-ed office moved to the Alvarado Campus, about four miles away.

As it stands, the English as a Second Language (ESL) and High School Diploma classes are still housed at the Serra campus, along with other vocational courses. Out of the 29 adult-ed courses offered at Serra in spring 2017, only 10 remain. The rest have either been relocated to Alvarado or are no longer offered.

As the Mandarin program grows, ESL teachers and others worry that those remaining adult classes will eventually have to move.

Kristen Pursley, lead teacher of the adult ESL classes at Serra, is concerned that if the move does occur, adults won’t be able to make it to the new location.

“At Alvarado, we’ve tried to start ESL classes before, but we couldn’t even get one class going,” she said. “It’s just not a place where a lot of immigrants can get to.”

The district has yet to pick a permanent location for the Mandarin school; it could stay at the Serra campus or move elsewhere.

Marcus Walton, the district’s communications director, said “options will be presented to the board in the next couple of meetings,” but did not specify.

Eric Peterson, principal of the Mandarin dual-immersion school, said its “footprint is very small” at Serra. This year, they’re only using two classrooms and the multi-purpose room. He also acknowledged that eventually the school will need more space to grow.

Once the current Mandarin kindergarten classes get to second grade, they will need a total of nine classrooms. This would require the adult education courses to move out of Serra entirely, according to Pursley.

Su Jin Jez, a parent at the Mandarin school, was excited to enroll her kids in the program, and even advocated for it during school board meetings. She’s waiting for a decision to come on a more permanent location—and she does feel the disappointment of the adult education members.

“No family wants to displace another community at all,” she said.

She also said that the district’s bigger problem is enrollment “growing faster than they have facilities.”

The Mandarin school parent group and the adult education staff are working to find solutions.

“Both groups are committed to serving to social justice and providing opportunities for the community,” said Peterson. “We’re both doing very important work.”



  1. Commenter on October 7, 2017 at 1:19 am

    I’m not taking sides, I know nothing about this issue. I’m just wondering how it is that an immigrant can get to Serra school, but can’t get to Alvarado. Alvarado is right off Carlson Ave bus line and just 3 blocks off San Pablo Ave. Serra is 9 blocks off of San Pablo Ave. I would think it easier to get to Alvarado than Serra. Perhaps it is, but this article and the previous one about this fails to explain why this is so.

    • Janet Johnson on October 10, 2017 at 6:56 pm

      It’s not that Alvarado is difficult to get to, although at 8:45 a.m., when adult ESL classes start, traffic along the San Pablo and I-80 corridors is very congested. Serra is located near central Richmond and San Pablo, convenient to most of its immigrant population and to the elementary schools their children attend.

      Another, more nuanced, factor: immigrants are understandably uneasy about venturing out of their community. Serra is a known quantity and has served the immigrant community for decades. As Ms. Pursley points out, the adult school previous tried to attract ESL students to classes at Alvarado and could not induce more than a handful of students to come.

  2. Commenter I on October 10, 2017 at 11:50 am

    Please have the reporter either attend school board meetings, review the tapes, the agendas or the minutes.

    The current thinking is to move the Mandarin School. Current timeline: Options presented in December. Final decision in January.

    Reporter raises doubt and speculation when none of this is valid or warranted.

  3. IMHO on October 10, 2017 at 10:31 pm

    The title of this article is misleading and highly biased. The “uncertainty for adult-ed program in district” is not caused by nor does it equal the mandarin school. This belongs in the Op-Ed section.

    Please inform your readers with more updated facts on how people are trying to resolve this issue.

  4. Kim Means on October 10, 2017 at 10:32 pm

    This article is disappointing, misleading and premature. West County Mandarin School can not stay at the Serra Campus long-term, because its enrollment will quickly exceed the capacity of the Serra campus. Therefore, it will not be the determinant factor as to whether or not adult education classes continue at the Serra campus. Presumably, over time the District will evaluate the adult education enrollment and demographics at both the Serra campus and the Alvarado campus to determine which is a better site for adult education classes. That debate began before the District voted to start West County Mandarin School at the Serra campus, and it will likely continue even after West County Mandarin School moves to another site.

  5. A story about unity not division on October 10, 2017 at 11:56 pm

    I am also disappointed by the misleading nature of this article. As previous commenters have stated, over the next few months, the school board is in the process of evaluating and then voting on a new site for the Mandarin school that would allow space for the school to grow. The Mandarin school is committed to reserving 50% of its seats for low-income students, ESL learners, and foster youth; it is serving the same community that the adult school is serving. The Mandarin school and the adult school are not fighting against each other; rather, they have a joint goal in helping their shared community. This article should be a story about unity and how the community saw a need for a different, diverse, and inclusive school and how the school district worked with the community to create that option together.

  6. Bias in Reporting? on October 11, 2017 at 10:11 am

    Give the comments above, I was curious if there was a slant to this article. I looked up the one fact that would be easy to verify — the number of courses offered at Serra this fall. I counted over 20 courses — and that doesn’t include numerous “workshops”. See for yourself:

    Also, the article just notes that Serra offers vocational courses and implies the courses are for English learners. While there are some of those courses, there are also courses like: Beginning and Intermediate Violin, Introduction to Violin, and Beginning and Intermediate Guitar.

    The omission of these facts makes me wonder if there’s bias in the reporting of this story. What Richmond needs is reporting that is accurate and doesn’t promote divisiveness.

    • Bias in Reporting? on October 11, 2017 at 10:12 am

      To clarify my comment above — the article states that there are 10 adult ed courses offered at Serra this fall, but the catalog clearly lists over 20 courses offered this fall.

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