Jing Mei Elementary is a public bilingual immersion (DLI) school located in Bellevue. Since its beginnings as a small-scale bilingual program in 2011, Jing Mei Elementary has become the only school in Washington that follows a bilingual, two-way Mandarin model. Students learn subjects in English and Mandarin. The student body consists of a 50-50 split of Mandarin-proficient students and English-proficient students who are still learning or discovering Mandarin. Such a model of education ensures that all students are proficient in both languages, while familiarizing them with new cultures. DLI schools are also believed to reduce racism and de facto school segregation by bringing together a diverse group of students from different economic, cultural, and social backgrounds.
Tina Bogucharova, the new principal of Jing Mei Elementary, provided an update on the burgeoning bilingual school and her role in it. Here’s what she had to say.
International Examiner: Can you tell me a bit about the type of work you do at Jing Mei?
Bogucharova: As director of Jing Mei, my main job is to promote quality teaching practices and implement the bilingual model with fidelity. I also lead my staff to advocate for Bellevue School District initiatives and prepare students for college, career, and life.
International Examiner: Jing Mei is the only Mandarin bilingual school in Washington that follows a two-way model. How does this model work and which students will benefit the most?
Bogucharova: Our two-way 90/10 model is described as “an immersion program model in which students are taught 90% of the time in the partner’s language and 10% in English during the first year or two, amount of English instruction gradually increasing. each year until English and the partner language are each used for 50% of teaching (usually in the third year). All students will benefit! We implement this model at the K-5 level because children have the ability and natural ability to acquire a second language and achieve native-like proficiency levels.
International Examiner: Why do you think bilingual immersion schools are important and more effective than traditional teaching settings?
Bogucharova: Language learners develop more cranial agility than monolinguals. Think about the cognitive tasks we ask children to perform in an immersion context; they need to code-switch and quickly negotiate meaning and generate a linguistically and culturally relevant response. They do all of this while learning traditional subjects such as math, social studies, literacy and science. Children have the ability to pick up language effortlessly and we need to recognize that the earlier we start, the better their chance of achieving native-like proficiency.
International Examiner: Deploying such a model must be difficult, especially when teaching very young children in two different languages. How is your school doing? Is it difficult for students when they start?
Bogucharova: We have a very dedicated, creative and responsive teaching team. Teachers are encouraged to bring their own passion, cultural frameworks and life experiences to make learning meaningful for everyone in the classroom, including themselves. Under the leadership of our previous director, Ms. Vivian Tam, we began to pilot a thematic unit approach to teaching in the immersion classroom. Instead of following a set of textbook-based curricula, our curriculum is created by subject-based teachers. The language lessons are derived from this particular study unit. We also have the support of Bellevue School District curriculum developers, with whom we consult on our unit planning. We work closely with Monica Lo, our K-12 Mandarin Curriculum Developer, to develop our curriculum and assessments.
International Examiner: Have you noticed any big differences between the students at Jing Mei and the students at the regular public schools you’ve worked in in the past?
Bogucharova: The biggest difference I’ve noticed is our students’ amazing ability to speak with near-native fluency. Even little kindergartners who come to us without any command of Mandarin can speak and write in paragraph form by the end of a school year. I also find that our students express themselves more easily on a wide range of subjects and that they quickly form a justified opinion. I don’t know how it relates to language learning, but I guess it’s because they’re exposed to a wider range of literary and cultural norms.
International Examiner: Jing Mei is a relatively new school, but it seems to be growing rapidly. Do you believe that the student body will increase more than the students currently enrolled? If so, how will you adapt to the growth?
Bogucharova: Our enrollment to date is 325. Yes, we are growing, but we will cap our enrollment at around 450 when we reach full capacity of having three classes per grade level. We will reach our full capacity at the start of the 2019-2020 school year.
International Examiner: What are the main things you will be tackling or working on this school year as director of Jing Mei?
Bogucharova: One of my goals is to train, retain and recruit teachers who are professionally and locally trained as bilingual teachers. I will work with the Seattle School District and the UW to advocate for more dual-language training for teacher candidates. I will also work to build a school culture that reflects the teaching staff and the community. It is important to me that Jing Mei does not stagnate and that we always recognize and honor the knowledge and interests of staff, students and their families. Most importantly, I want to build the capacity of my staff so that we can all lead together.