East Meets West: Dual Track Immersion
at International School of the Peninsula, Palo Alto, CA.

The ACIE Newsletter, May 2001, Vol. 4, No. 3

Heather Levinsky, Communications Manager,
International School of the Peninsula, Palo Alto, California



The International School of the Peninsula opened in Palo Alto, California, in September 1979 as the Peninsula French-American School, with nine students, three teachers, one classroom, and founder Charlotte de Géry as headmistress. The pedagogical goal was to utilize and reinforce students' French and English language skills at a native level, and to provide an education complementary to the French system. The school received official accreditation from the French National Ministry of Education in 1982. By the 1995-96 school year, enrollment had reached 254 students.


Pre-kindergarten students in the
Chinese program engage in circle
time activities.

During that year, the Board of Trustees officially made a commitment to add a second immersion language program through fifth grade, and extend the French curriculum through middle school. Mandarin Chinese was selected for the second language track based on extensive research, conducted with assistance from an alumni group of Stanford University's MBA program. Studies concluded that, based on the demographics of the Silicon Valley region, and strong indications that Mandarin Chinese would become an increasingly dominant language on the world stage, Mandarin Chinese was the best choice for our second curriculum. For initial program guidance and teacher recruitment assistance, the school established a temporary partnership with the Chinese-American International School in San Francisco. The French program was expanded through eighth grade in response to the continuing needs of students and parents, enabling students to deepen and strengthen their bilingual experience, and to reinforce skills that will now last for a lifetime. To accommodate the new programs, the Board leased a second campus for the school.

For the 2000-01 academic year, the Mandarin Chinese program curriculum encompassed kindergarten through fourth grade and will be completed with a fifth grade class in the 2001-02 academic year. The French middle school program has successfully graduated two eighth grade classes and added a ninth grade this year to complete the French middle school cycle. A significant milestone was reached in August 2000 when construction of the school's first permanent facility was completed. This building serves as the school's upper campus and accommodates 370 first through ninth grade students in both programs. The school continues to lease a lower campus for its 130 pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students.


A seventh grade student in the
French program learns calligraphy
as part of a Chinese Culture week
held for her grade.


Within both the French-English and Mandarin Chinese-English programs, the two sets of languages are taught simultaneously at every grade level; they are both the medium of instruction and the target language. In the French program, the English portion of the curriculum focuses on language arts and social studies (literature, composition, and U.S. history at the middle school level). The French faculty members teach French language arts, mathematics, science, history/geography, civics, music, art, and physical education (these content areas are departmentalized at the middle school level). In the Chinese program, all content areas are taught in both English and Chinese (i.e., language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies). Music is taught by a Chinese teacher and art by an English teacher. Native-language speakers teach each class, and there is no language mixing. Classes are taught in small groups. English as a second language (ESL) is provided for one year to non-English speakers up to fifth grade. Non English-speaking students who enroll in middle school are eligible for two years of ESL support. French as a second language (FSL) and Chinese as a second language (CSL) are also offered as extra support and practice for native English speakers from pre-kindergarten through fifth grade.

Our key instructional strategies include transfer of skills and knowledge between languages. One of the most fundamental assumptions underlying the efficiency of dual immersion instruction is that skills and knowledge learned in the native language transfer to the second language and vice versa. For example, a child who learns about velocity in French should be able to transfer this knowledge to English without having to relearn the concepts, as long as the relevant vocabulary (in English) is available. While French, English and Chinese teachers have different curricular goals for their students, there is some content and project coordination.

Other strategies are:

  • multi-sensorial activities
  • individualization of goals
  • variation of grouping and of class structure (i.e., occasional small-group work within a class)
  • co-teaching
  • differentiation of curricula material used to accommodate learning styles and needs
  • instruction and communication within the class done in the target language
  • separation of languages.


Theme based. Mandarin Chinese language arts classes utilize thematic teaching and transcend the entire curriculum. For example, the Mandarin teacher will reinforce a science concept (such as photosynthesis) originally introduced by the English teacher by teaching new Mandarin vocabulary that will allow the class to explore the concept in detail. By third grade, students learn original science and math concepts from their Mandarin teacher.

Culture. In the Chinese program, each grade level receives a weekly Chinese culture class, and culture is also integrated into the basic curriculum. Second and third graders learn to use the abacus in their math class, and third graders learn calligraphic techniques to write Chinese characters. In the French program, the imparting of culture is integral to classroom instruction as French teachers embody and share their native customs. To ensure that students also benefit from the school's multicultural environment, a variety of cultural traditions are celebrated by the entire community. During a typical school year, all-school celebrations may include the Chinese New Year, Cinco de Mayo, Thanksgiving, and La Kermesse (modeled on spring carnivals held in France).

Other. For the 2000-01 school year, pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classes from both programs have been integrated for the English portion of the curriculum to do circle time, language-based activities, songs, art projects, and so on, together. The primary goal of this integration is to foster friendships and cultural understanding that will endure as the students move further into their separate studies.


Pre-kindergarten students in the
Chinese program do exercises


French evaluations in Grades 3 and 6. At the beginning of third and sixth grade, students in the French program take part in the evaluation process developed by the French Ministry of Education. These tests are designed to evaluate the extent to which any given student has acquired skills and knowledge defined by the curriculum. Every student in France and in any accredited French school abroad must take these tests, which correspond with the completion of a learning cycle. Fundamental skills and mastery of concepts are tested in third grade, and students' depth of understanding is evaluated in sixth grade.

State testing in Grades 3 through 8. In accordance with California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS) membership, the school administers the Educational Records Bureau's annual Comprehensive Testing Program (CTP III) to its third through ninth graders. The CTP III test is designed for monolinguals, but our students, who receive instruction in English for no more than 35 percent of their week, score on average in the above-average percentiles (in the seventy-seventh percentile and above).

Since the school will be completing the Chinese program in the 2001-02 school year with the addition of the fifth grade class, a formal evaluation process in Chinese has not yet been adapted.


Organized through our Parent Teacher Association (PTA), parents and other members of the community are instrumental in contributing to and enhancing the school environment through volunteer efforts. Room parents organize class parties and assist the teachers in various ways throughout the school year, and dedicated volunteers serve specific departments, such as the library and computer lab. Parent involvement has been instrumental in fostering a community spirit at the school through the organization of all-school events such as La Kermesse, monthly breakfast meetings with the head of school, weekend dances for parents, and holiday celebrations. A group of volunteer parents also works with the development office to create a successful annual fundraising gala.

The school and PTA are also engaged in on-going efforts to assist parents in understanding and supporting the bilingual acquisition process: informational meetings are held during the admissions process and are also offered to "enrolled" parents.


Fourth grade students in the French program
work on lessons together in class.


Library. The school has three libraries, one for each segment of our student population: pre-kindergarten and kindergarten, elementary school, and middle school. Each library has a librarian, offers an on-line catalog with two computer workstations dedicated to the catalog and, in the elementary and middle school libraries, additional computers for research projects, and an information desk where students can seek assistance with research projects.

Technology. Both the pre-kindegarten/kindergarten campus and the Grades 1-9 campus are networked and connected to the Internet, each classroom has at least two computers, and our new upper campus features a dedicated 1,035-square-foot computer lab. All these tools have assisted us in our practice of integrating technology with the academic program. As with other aspects of the curriculum, technology spirals from one grade to the next, enabling students to strengthen their existing skills while developing their ability to use ever more complex software. A four-part curriculum focuses on students' publishing/presentation, communication, research, and mathematical/science skills.


Strengths and Innovation:

  • technology (see above)
  • integration of French and Chinese program pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students for the English portion of the curriculum
  • academic standards, quality, and rigor of curricula
  • successful transition and integration of our elementary and middle school graduates into (other) middle schools and high schools
  • small class size and low teacher/student ratio
  • diverse backgrounds and experiences of faculty members

Program Challenges/Future Growth:

The economic boom and attendant high cost of living in Silicon Valley have created their own challenges. Recruiting, developing, and maintaining a top-notch faculty has required more effort in recent years, as potential teachers face a tight and expensive real estate market. This market is also a hard reality as we plan and hope for the future expansion of our programs, because available and adequate property is scarce and prohibitively expensive.

The International School of the Peninsula is facing a "problem of success." Our greatest current challenges involve meeting the needs of our growing school community and weathering the significant changes in our greater Silicon Valley community. We are currently researching the viability of creating a middle school program that will accommodate both our French and Chinese programs, and the possibility of expanding our programs through high school. Even without these major additions, the school has experienced dramatic growth in the past five years, from 250 to nearly 500 students, and we are constantly monitoring the quality of our programs as we add more classes.


School Information:


International School of the Peninsula, Palo Alto, California
Location: urban
District: Independent school immersion center
Program type: two full-day dual immersion bilingual programs
Target Languages: French-English, and Mandarin Chinese-English
Year began: French 1979, Mandarin Chinese 1996
Current grade levels: French PK-9, Mandarin Chinese PK-4

Program Goals:


The school is divided into two sections that share a similar pedagogical philosophy but follow different programs. The main goal of the school is to help its students become bilingual and biliterate, in either French and English, or Mandarin Chinese and English. The school achieves bilingualism, the ability to speak two languages, by placing the child in situations of immersion, where teachers instruct in their own native languages.

Student Population:


Total: 498 Ethnic background, French program: 62% French; 38% U.S. and others
Ethnic background, Chinese program: 50% Chinese; about 33% have one Chinese parent and the other parent is either Caucasian or another Asian nationality; remainder is Caucasion or other
English language learners: Grades 1-9 approx. 10%; pre-kindergarten and kindergarten appox. 12%
Average class size: 17

Teacher-Staff Population


Total: 93 (72 faculty, 21 administrators and support staff)
Student - Teacher ratio: 8:1
Ethnic background, teachers of French: all from France
Ethnic background, teachers of Chinese: all from Taiwan
Ethnic background, teachers of English: all from the United States, Canada, England, and Australia

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