Elementary school’s Mandarin immersion students celebrate Chinese New Year

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“This is my fourth year as principal of Lakeside’s Riverview Elementary School, East County’s only tri-lingual program. Our school is home to the Riverview International Academy which offers both Spanish and Mandarin immersion programs. This is one of only two such programs in the nation,” explained Principal Olympia Kyriakidis.

“This is my fourth year as principal of Lakeside’s Riverview Elementary School, East County’s only tri-lingual program. Our school is home to the Riverview International Academy which offers both Spanish and Mandarin immersion programs. This is one of only two such programs in the nation,” explained Principal Olympia Kyriakidis.

“I love my position as leader of this unique and awesome school,” said Kyriakidis as she greeted proud parents and guests to the school’s Chinese New Year celebration held on Jan. 31 at the Lakeside Middle School theater.
“The instructor Peng Peng who teaches my daughter Bailey (who is in fifth grade) is wonderful,” said proud Lakeside mom Betsy Fisher.

Brenda Niederberger, also of Lakeside, and mother of fifth- grader Jordi concurred. “The costumes all come over from China,” she added excitedly, as both girls took the stage to perform a traditional Chinese dance.

Parents Kelly and Andrew Palmer of El Cajon couldn’t resist snapping pictures of 5-year- old daughter Lundin as her kindergarten class kicked off the performance. “Our 8-year-old son Dane (who is in third grade), is taking mostly Spanish with a little Mandarin,” explained Kelly. “Andrew works out of town. I would move, but choose to stay here because of this program,” she said. Dane didn’t perform that evening but “he will be in the school’s international program in March,” she added proudly.

The Spanish immersion program began in 2006. It is a one-way immersion program in which students receive 100 percent instruction in Spanish in kindergarten and first grade. Formal English instruction begins in second grade at approximately 20 percent, and increases incrementally to 50 percent by fifth grade. Spanish immersion students receive Mandarin instruction in grades kindergarten through second, and formal Spanish instruction given two times per month (approximately 120 minutes per week) in grades three through five. Because 100 percent of instruction is in Spanish, parents are expected to read to their child in English daily and support English instruction at home.

In partnership with San Diego State University’s Confucius Institute, Riverview’s Mandarin immersion program, known as the Mandarin Language Academy, later began in 2010. It provides a 50/50 education model for students. Instruction is 50 percent in Mandarin and 50 percent in English on alternating days from kindergarten through fifth grade.

Some may ask why should such young children learn a second or even third foreign language. Francois Thibaut, who in 1973 founded a similar program, Manhattan’s The Language Workshop for Children (LWFC), answers that question:

“Children hold a unique ability to acquire language skills and build first-rate verbal processing skills, that has been proven to play a critical role in their future careers, as well as their successes along the way. Some parents and educators believe a second language does not become imperative until high school. However, at LWFC, we have discovered that children, even those as young as 6 months old, will benefit from learning these skills as early as possible. In fact, we believe that the younger the student, the better.”

LWFC is said to be the first educational program of its kind to teach foreign languages to very young children. It has since been offering their Thibaut Technique classes exclusively to students in Manhattan, the New York area and greater Boston for more than 30 years.

However, participants need not travel to New York to participate in such a program. Informational parent meetings, which are required for enrollment, will be held at Riverview in February, as well as adult-only tours. Prior registration is required. Participants must register for a tour at a parent meeting.
“At Riverview Elementary School, we teach our students how to advance in the 21st century. That’s why we teach them three languages,” said Kyriakidis. She describes the school’s curriculum as “infused with essential modern-day skills including world language instruction, technology, critical thinking and creativity.”

For information on the Riverview International Academy and Mandarin Language Academy, call (619) 390-2662.

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