On Tueseday, Samantha stood in line to go to her last day of kindergarten. The scene was so different from nine months ago.
Nine months ago, we sat at cafeteria tables waiting to learn which teacher we would have. Samantha and twenty-three other children were placed in Chen Laoshi’s class. She would never speak English to them, even that first day. We walked side by side with our children and stood in the back of the room as Ms. Chen called their names, their Chinese names that many had never heard before. There was a parent who spoke Chinese there to translate. I breathed a sigh of relief when Samantha’s name was called, Sa-ma-ta, and she recognized that was her. All the children were given name tags with Chinese characters on them that I didn’t understand. Ms. Chen waved good-bye to us, signaling it was time to leave our five year olds in kindergarten, at a new school, with a new teacher, and a new language, for the first time. We were quiet when we left.
Nine months later there are less parents around. Many of the kids are dropped off and find their way to line up by themselves. They run and play and greet each other and us parents chat and ask about summer plans. Samantha and three of her girlfriends stand in line singing a song in Chinese and then switch to English to greet another friend.
Samantha is now speaking and listening at grade level in Mandarin. Nine months of school and she can communicate like a typical Mandarin speaking kindergartener. I’ve been just amazed by the program, by the dedication of the teachers to teach two classes in half the amount of time and still keep our kids on track for the standards set by the state. And these kids. Wow. Sponges is an understatement. They have embraced this program and a new language. They are an impressive group of kids.
Samantha has started to play in Chinese. I’ll hear her talking to her dolls or pretend playing, and she’s doing it in Chinese. She’s told me she dreams in Chinese sometimes. And now she’s a first grader. Definitely a big kid and well on her way to being bilingual.