The Riverbank Unified School District (RUSD) has created a program called Riverbank Academy of Multilingual Education (R.A.M.E.) that offers students a Multilingual Immersion Education at California Avenue Elementary School. The immersion experience has offered languages in English and Spanish and now an additional third language of Mandarin Chinese.
Rosie Ramos, RUSD English Language Development Coordinator/Dual Language Immersion Consultant, expressed that this is a great opportunity for families and this is the only program in the valley that offers Mandarin Chinese.
“It is a great opportunity for families to have the children learning a second and a third language in our case,” said Ramos. “So it is a very unique opportunity for families that are interested in their children becoming multilingual.”
Rui Dong is the new Mandarin Chinese teacher that was recently hired to slowly start adding lessons of the Chinese culture to the program. Dong is from Northeastern China and was teaching in Michigan for the past three years. This is her first time in California and she is already enjoying the weather. Chinese is her native language and she is fluent in English. Since being in California she is pleased to report that she has also been learning a little bit of Spanish.
“It is a great country and great experiences,” said Dong regarding teaching in the United States. “It is quite different.”
When the program began there were approximately 18 TK (Transitional Kindergarten) students and 42 to 44 kindergarteners. Today there are 21 TKs, 60 kindergarteners, and two first grade classes with a total of 45 students in the immersion program.
“It has been very positive and we have had some very positive participation from the parents,” added Ramos. “The word is getting out there. It has grown in the kindergarten level and obviously with our new Mandarin teacher she provides a lesson in the Chinese culture 15 minutes a day for the kindergarten and first grade classes.
“The parents are very happy to have that in place.”
Although the language will not be taught yet, Dong has been reading them stories, singing songs, and has taught them how to say hello, goodbye, and thank you in Chinese.
Dong explained that teaching the students hello, goodbye, and thank you is a great way for the students to transition from one language to another.
“The focus is the culture for the first year to cultivate their interest,” expressed Dong. “I just introduced some culture as well as some unique parts of our country. Next year they may have a little bit of Chinese (language) in my lessons.”
To participate in the program students do not have to be enrolled in the Riverbank Unified School District and all classes are taught at California Avenue Elementary.
Not only have students been learning about the Chinese culture but they also have learned some geography on where it is located.
Staff at California Avenue has assisted Dong in purchasing some Chinese items to use along with her teachings so that students can have something tangible while they are learning.
“I feel very glad that they are very engaged because I think for one reason the culture is so different and the country is so far away from them,” stated Dong. “This Chinese class is so special.”
“The children are just very receptive,” expressed Ramos. “I guess it is the way the brain works that once you learn a second language it is more likely you will pick up a third. Even though they are still young and it is still early, just learning the few words in a third language just opens up the brain to be able to think critically and analyze things and be able to use all modalities of the brain.”