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Richmond School - profile

Richmond School is a K-5 Japanese language Focus Option in SE Portland, entirely populated with students via PPS’s lottery.  It’s an award-winning partial language immersion program where half the day is taught in English, and half in Japanese. 

Scoop Half-Full:

Parents of all stripes – some from Japan, some with Japanese roots, some who are drawn to Japanese culture, and some that simply like the idea of a language immersion program – send their kids to Richmond for the challenge of learning Japanese.  Over the course of their 6 year elementary career students thrive in an international atmosphere comprised not only of the school’s families, but also the staff which include teachers and interns from Japan who are learning from its model immersion program.  Richmond students become fluent in speaking, reading and writing Japanese (no easy feat with its intricate alphabet!).  And all the students’ hard work culminates in a trip to Japan during the 5th grade where they work on individual research projects. 

Richmond’s commitment to exposing its students to the Japanese culture results in many academic and educational bonuses.  Throughout the day (especially during after school programs) the kids have countless opportunities to learn calligraphy, Taiko, kendo, and Japanese dance, to name a few things.  The library – a “nice to have” for any school – has lots of Japanese language books.  And the several interns who work full time in the Richmond classrooms for a year not only lower the student-teacher ratio but also create Japanese summer programs for the kids.  The families who “host” them in their homes also get the bonus of plenty opportunity to practice and learn Japanese.

Because Richmond is 100% magnet school (or Focus Option, to use PPS parlance) its entire student population had to enter the lottery to get in.  The result of this self-selection process is a highly enthusiastic parent population who are committed to the Japanese program.  The smart, ethnically diverse (or at least more so than most Portland schools) parent community help make the school come alive by giving countless hours to Japanese related school festivals, classroom/school-wide help, and fundraising, some of which happens via Oya No Kai, which is sort of like a Japanese PTA that raises money to support the cultural aspects of the program. The payoff of all this commitment is one thriving, rich, and diverse learning community.

Scoop Half-Empty:

While it’s a positive thing, it also takes a lot of energy to be committed – to the language, to the school.  This is especially true if you don’t have the natural affinity to the Japanese culture & language.  Because the school is only 50% and not full immersion, it does take that extra push to get your kid to fluency – and not all of them get there by the end of 5th grade.  While the school does a good job of recognizing which kids are excelling (perhaps because they hear the language at home) and tries to team them up with kids who need the help, it takes the focused parent to make sure his child gets the extra support.  Because Japanese is not as ubiquitous as Spanish, nor as “hot” as Mandarin, a parent has to be drawn to the culture & language (or at least pretend to be!) to stay focused. And if you don’t want the Japanese to fizzle out after elementary school, that commitment to the program will need to remain steady through middle school at Mt. Tabor, and high school at Grant.

Being part of the public school system, Richmond is not immune to budget cuts. (Last year they lost their art teacher, for example.) And while the foundation raises significant funds, the money is prioritized on the Japanese program, the interns, etc. – so other extras may necessarily fall through the cracks. We’ve also heard from parents that the science curriculum could be more robust, and that if you have a kid who is off the charts in a particular area (math, for example) that the school will be hard-pressed to be able to meet his or her need for challenge. But in case you’re wondering, anemic science and TAG (Talented and Gifted) programs are district-wide issues, and not unique to Richmond. And while Richmond is not overly TAG (under 10%) some parents consider the integration of a second language as a built in TAG program.

As with any 100% lottery school there is no real neighborhood glue to hold the community together, which in turn means extra commitment again from parents (and staff) to create a thriving environment.  As a parent you’ll need to get used to a commute, and should expect to drive to playdates across town.  All this is assuming you’re lucky enough to get in to Richmond (recent data hasn’t been released yet, but for the 2010-11 year, slightly over half who tried got a spot). The truly savvy and determined parent will try the lottery for a spot in Richmond’s pre-K program, which prioritizes your child to get in at Kindergarten.  But the window to transfer will close after kindergarten (first grade, we hear -- see comment below) unless your child can prove proficiency in Japanese. And if you are that committed to the culture then Richmond is probably the perfect match for your family.

If you are part of a Richmond Elementary family, do you have anything to add or clarify?  We certainly can’t cover it all, and appreciate additional input!

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Reader Comments (3)

My daughter was able to enter the lottery for 1st grade without having any prior Japanese. The school told us that they will accept pre-k, K, and 1st graders without having prior language knowledge.
Ultimately, our daughter did "win" a spot for 1st grade. We decided not to accept, as we thought she would be very behind her peers (some students had already had 2 years of Japanese under their belts).

August 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterColleen

This is great to know. Thanks for the comment, Colleen!

August 12, 2011 | Registered CommenterResearchMama

Everything is true about the good points, and the challenging ones. The kids have less time than a regular school to work on subjects like reading and writing because half the day is spent in Japanese and math. You can expect more homework to try and make up for this. We have had to hire a weekly tutor to help with homework for the past several years. For our child who is struggling, it was not the best choice. Hard to know in kindergarten how your child will do.

November 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmy

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