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P.S. 184 Shuang Wen
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Dual language program in Mandarin and English
Lingering friction over school's vision
Shuang Wen has long been a top-scoring school serving primarily Asian families who want their children to be fluent in both English and Mandarin. Over the years the school has become more welcoming to non-Asian children who want to learn Mandarin.
One 1st grade parent says it also appeals to families seeking a more academically rigorous and formal education than some of District 1’s progressive options: “The children get a G&T [gifted and talented] education without a segregated G&T program.”
Instruction alternates between Mandarin and English during the school day. Ideally, a dual language program is a 50/50 split of children who are dominant in each language, but the majority here is made up of Mandarin speakers.
Teachers must spend extra time on reading, grammar and writing as a result, says principal Iris Chiu. The walls are filled with writing samples in both Chinese and English, and children sound out words phonetically in both languages to express their ideas and then work toward mastery of conventional spelling as they gain skills.
An English-only-speaking parent says she would have liked a little more bridging of languages in kindergarten, such as sending home lists of words with English and Chinese characters, but that it got easier for her child in 1st grade.
Chiu says teaching materials are limited for Chinese dual language programs. Up to 10 children per class are invited to stay after school at least once a week until 4:15 p.m. for extra instruction in the area where they need the most help.
Expectations are high. Five-year-olds are expected to sit, pay attention and “write really well immediately,” a parent says. Her child was referred for occupational therapy because his handwriting was a “little bit messy,” which made her anxious. However, the child benefitted from “a little more stamina overall with fine motor skills,” she says.
Some friction shows up between the principal and staff on school surveys. Chiu joined the school in 2011 during a contentious transition. Prior to her arrival, instruction was English-only during the school day, with intensive Chinese lessons after school. Now, in dual language, teachers must deliver lessons in Chinese and English, and the pace of instruction has inevitably slowed. If there is little support for learning Chinese at home, “teachers do have to help,” the principal says.
Chiu points to the school’s performance on test scores as confirmation that dual language works, despite lingering resistance among some factions of the school population. “We are in the top 10 percent of schools in New York State since 2013,” she says, even as the numbers of children with disabilities and English language learners continues to rise.
A longtime after-school program, Shuang Wen Academy Network (SWAN), moved out of the building to 90 Bowery Street in 2016. It offers Mandarin classes for a fee. SWAN was controversial because it operated like a school within the school, leaving little space for the arts. Some 85 families still use SWAN and say it is the best way to learn Chinese, but one parent says her son complained of standing for lessons for two hours. Instead, she hires a Mandarin tutor from Columbia University.
Other options include the Apex program, which is free for middle school children and fee-based in the younger grades (with scholarships). Apex weaves Mandarin into arts activities, such as chess, sports or drawing. CMP (Career Mobility Partnership) is another fee-based option emphasizing speaking, reading and listening skills.
The school has a huge library, two science labs, a beautiful dance studio and an abundance of computers.
ADMISSIONS: Lottery conducted by the Department of Education with District 1 priority and sibling preference. The middle school is open Manhattan-wide. Students are screened for grades, test scores and knowledge of Mandarin. Children who are a “good fit” are invited to take a two-hour language test to assess their instructional needs, Chiu says. Priority to those who attend elementary school Mandarin dual language or bilingual programs, are learning English or who are proficient in both Mandarin and English.(Lydie Raschka, web reports and interviews, January 2018)Read more