Castelar Elementary is the second oldest school in LAUSD. With the largest number of Southeast Asian refugee students in the district, it is an ideal campus for dual language programs.
Located in the Chinatown neighborhood of Los Angeles, the K-5 dual language school envisioned providing all students equal access to the curriculum and instruction in the development of life-long learners who will be career and college ready. Principal Wing K. Fung is an alumnus of the school in the ’70s. Back then, there was no dual language program when he attended Castelar Elementary, and it became his passion to provide a dual language environment for his students.
Currently there are 645 students at Castelar, and of those students, 325 pupils are enrolled in the Chinese dual language program. The programs are two-way with 50/50 instruction model. Traditional Chinese characters are taught in K-2, and at grades 3-5, simplified Chinese characters are taught. Pinyin is used in all K-5 classrooms.
To ensure that Chinese dual language students still use Chinese during their summer break, Principal Wing K. Fung and Assistant Principal Salvador Sandoval work with Loyola Marymount University to provide a summer program with STARTALK. STARTALK is a federal grant program funded by the National Security Agency and administered by the National Foreign Language Center at the University of Maryland. Dr. Magaly Lavadenz and Dr. Elvira Armas work with Principal Fung’s staff and develop a two-week summer program where students can only speak Chinese in the classroom. The theme this year is “Discovery through a Virtual Journey along the Silk Road.” Students are not only practicing speaking and listening in Chinese, they have to use Chinese to integrate cultural learning and solve math or science problems in Chinese. On the day of our visit, we saw students pretend they are Silk Road traders and barter with their fellow students in Chinese.
Talk about learning a life skill, and in Chinese.
The LMU STARTALK Chinese Student Immersion program is open to neighboring schools and districts in the greater Los Angeles area. Ninety-eight students in six classes from 1st grade to 4th grade attended this year’s program. Program director Dr. Magaly Lavadenz recruited Ms. Krystin Wong from Walnut Valley Unified School District as an instructional lead and co-program coordinator. Ms. Wong adopted a project-based model and encourages students to use Chinese in their daily life. The curriculum includes Chinese calligraphy, dancing, and music, and helps students understand and acquire Chinese language through cultural activities.