Lion Dance at Jing Mei. • Photo Courtesy of Bellevue School District
Lion Dance at Jing Mei. • Photo Courtesy of Bellevue School District

Jing Mei Elementary is a public dual language immersion (DLI) school located in Bellevue. Since its beginning as a small-scale dual language program in 2011, Jing Mei Elementary has grown into the only school in Washington that follows a Mandarin dual language, two-way model. Students are taught subjects in both English and Mandarin. The student body consists of a 50-50 split of students proficient in Mandarin and students proficient in English still learning or new to Mandarin. Such an education model ensures all students are fluent in both languages, while familiarizing them with new cultures. DLI schools are also believed to curtail racism and de facto school segregation by bringing together a diverse group of students with different economic, cultural, and social backgrounds.

Tina Bogucharova, the new principal of Jing Mei Elementary, gave the International Examiner an update on the burgeoning dual language school and the role she plays there. Here’s what she had to say.

International Examiner: Can you tell me a bit about the kind of work you do at Jing Mei?

Bogucharova: As the Principal of Jing Mei my primary job is to promote quality instructional practices and implement the dual language model with fidelity. I also lead my staff to advocate Bellevue School District’s initiatives and prepare students for college, career, and life.  

Tina Bogucharova • Courtesy Photo
Tina Bogucharova • Courtesy Photo

International Examiner: Jing Mei is the only Mandarin dual language school in Washington that follows a two-way model. How does this model work and which students will benefit from it most?

Bogucharova: Our Two-Way 90/10 model is described as “An immersion program model in which students are instructed 90% of the time in the partner language and 10% in English in the first year or two, with the amount of English instruction gradually increasing each year until English and the partner language are each used for 50% of instruction (generally by third grade).” All students will benefit from it! We implement this model at the K-5 level because children have the capacity and natural ability to acquire a second language and reach native-like proficiency levels.

International Examiner: Why do you think dual language immersion schools are important and more effective than traditional education frameworks?

Bogucharova: Language learners develop more cranial agility than monolinguals.  Think about the cognitive tasks we ask children to complete in an immersion setting; they have to code-switch and quickly negotiate meaning and generate a linguistically and culturally relevant response. They do all this while learning traditional subject areas such as math, social studies, literacy, and science. Children have the ability to acquire language effortlessly and we should recognize that, the sooner we start the better their chance of reaching native-like proficiency.

International Examiner: Deploying such a model must be challenging, especially when teaching very young children in two different languages. How does your school do it? Is it tough for the students when they first begin?

Bogucharova: We have a very dedicated, creative, and responsive teaching staff.  The teachers are encouraged to bring their own passion, cultural frames, and life experiences to make learning meaningful for everyone in the classroom, including themselves. Under the leadership of our previous Principal Ms. Vivian Tam, we started piloting a thematic unit approach to teaching in the immersion classroom. Instead of following one set of textbook-driven curriculum, our curriculum is created by teachers based on content area subjects.  The language lessons are derived from that particular unit of study. We also have the support of Bellevue School District’s Curriculum Developers, with whom we consult our unit planning. We work very closely with our K-12 Mandarin Curriculum Developer, Monica Lo, in developing our curriculum and assessments.

International Examiner: Do you notice any big differences between the students at Jing Mei and students at regular public schools you’ve worked at in the past?

Bogucharova: The biggest difference that I have noticed is in our students’ amazing ability to speak with native-like fluency. Even little kindergarteners who come to us with zero Mandarin proficiency can speak and write in paragraph form by the end of one school year. I also find that our students are able to speak more easily on a wide range of topics and they are quick to form an opinion backed by reason. I’m not sure how it relates to language learning but I’m guessing that it’s because they are exposed to a wider range of literature and cultural norms.

International Examiner: Jing Mei is a relatively new school, but it appears to be growing fast. Do you believe the student body will grow any larger than the students currently enrolled? If so, how will you accommodate for the growth?

Bogucharova: Our enrollment as of today is 325. Yes, we are expanding but we will cap our enrollment at about 450 when we reach full capacity of having three classes per grade level. We will reach full capacity in the 2019-2020 school year.

International Examiner: What are the major things you will be addressing or working towards this school year as Jing Mei’s principal?

Bogucharova: One of my goals is to train, retain, and recruit teachers who are professionally and locally trained as dual language teachers. I will be collaborating with Seattle School District and UW to advocate for more Dual Language trainings for teacher candidates. I will also be working towards building a school culture that is reflective of the teaching staff and the community. It is important to me that Jing Mei does not remain stagnant and that we always recognize and honor the funds of knowledge and interests of the staff, students and their families. Most importantly, I want to build capacity in my staff so that we can all lead together.

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