P.S. 184 Shuang Wen
Dual language program in Mandarin and English
Recovering from internal battles
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. Under new leadership, the school has become more welcoming to non-Asian children who want to learn Mandarin.
Under the previous administration, children learned English during the regular school day and Mandarin in an afterschool program, for which there is a fee. The new principal, Iris Chiu, has put in place classes that alternate instruction in Mandarin and English during the day, so that children who do not attend the afterschool still have a chance to learn the language.
A "success story" for years, this popular school has long boasted high test scores and excellent admissions into selective high schools. The school has marshaled significant resources for a huge library, two science labs, a beautiful dance studio and an abundance of computers.
But suspicions surfaced that the former administration was hand-picking students in what was supposed to be a district-wide lottery. The concerns were highlighted by the fact that year after year, the population of the school failed to reflect the racial make-up of the district. PS 184 is directly across the street from a public housing complex where the majority of residents are African-American. "A lot of people just assumed it was a private school," said one community leader, "because they saw limousines dropping kids off and mostly Asian kids going in."
The Department of Education eventually uncovered 16 substantiated allegations of misconduct by former principal, Ling Ling Chou, according to DNAinfo. The DOE has filed charges to have her license removed. Chou was charged with manipulating the attendance rate and admitting students improperly in favor of Asian families.
Chiu, the new principal, joined the fray in 2011 at the height of the controversy and took the brunt of anger from parents who sided with the former principal. She has not taken the on-going protests - and even the death threats she has received - personally: “Parents were angry because of the sudden change,” she said. “They needed an outlet for their anger. I know it’s not about me. I feel for the community. It’s precious to have a good school in a community.”
Fortunately, Chiu has had experience working in lightening-rod positions before, most notably as the assistant principal of guidance at Lafayette High School during a time when the school drew lawsuits over bullying of Asian-American students by African-Americans. Chiu used the arts to integrate the student body. “Harmony can only be built through relationships,” she said. “Through true interactions. Not in segregated classes.” At PS 184 she and her staff have adopted a conflict resolution program to help kids learn talk to each other about differences as the student body becomes more integrated.
Determined to make the school stronger, Chiu has poured money into professional development for her teachers, many of whom are licensed bilingual teachers. One of the most positive changes, according to a parent, is the emphasis on grammar and writing. The walls are filled with writing samples in both Chinese and English, and in both languages children sounds out words phonetically to express their ideas and then work towards mastery of conventional spelling as they gain skills.
Ideally, a dual language program is a 50/50 split of children who are dominant in each language but the majority here are still native Mandarin speakers. On our visit we counted about 3-5 non-Asian students in each dual language classroom.
There is on-going friction between the administration and Shuang Wen Academy Network (SWAN), which offers Mandarin classes after school for a fee. The program was always meant to be optional, but under the former principal it was not. Although fewer families participate in the $1,200 a year program because they are learning Mandarin in the dual language classes, it continues to occupy every classroom after-school, so there is no space for the free Asian-themed arts classes Chiu wants to offer including Chinese dance and Shadow Box Theater.
Special education: Staffers mix some of the brightest children in general education with those who have special needs in team-taught classes.
Admissions: Lottery conducted by the Department of Education with a strictly enforced District 1 priority and sibling preference. (Lydie Raschka, October 2013)
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Manhattan NY 10002