From by Ben Worthen:
When kindergartners arrive at the Presidio Knolls School next week for their first day of class, they will be allowed to speak English only on the playground and at a few other times. Most classes will be taught in Chinese.

"There's a real demand for this kind of learning," says Alfonso Orsini, the head of the school, which is adding a kindergarten after several years as a Chinese-language preschool. Construction crews are working to finish the school's campus, a former run-down church on 10th Street. The plan calls for eventually enrolling students through eighth grade.

The Bay Area is now home to 23 such Mandarin Chinese-immersion schools, according to one count, many of which have opened in the last few years. Some of the schools are private—Presidio Knolls among them—while others are public. Still others are charter schools, which are privately operated but receive public funding.

There are approximately 125 Mandarin-Chinese immersion schools in the country, according to Beth Weise, who runs a website for parents of Mandarin-immersion students. Five are in San Francisco, including Presidio Knolls and Aptos Middle School, which also begins a Mandarin-immersion program this fall, as well as a Cantonese-immersion school.

The Mandarin-immersion schools in the Bay Area have different styles and approaches. Some split the day between teaching in English and Chinese, while others teach exclusively in Chinese.

At Presidio Knolls, the goal is to combine language immersion with a teaching style that designs lessons around subjects the students choose to study. If students are interested in fishing, the class might travel to a pier and a fish market in Chinatown before dissecting a fish back at the school. On the first day of kindergarten, the plan is for the children to decorate the classroom.

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