(Summer Review Only) While many of the teachers seem incredibly hard-working and caring, I don't think the school is run well. Classes are mixed by age, not ability, meaning if your child is a beginner he or she will likely end up feeling Mandarin is unknowable a message I can't help but feel the school intentionally projects. I watched my confident, outgoing child turn into an overtired, stressed-out mess as the weeks went by while learning very little. Language learning isn't always easy, but I think it can be fun, no? CAIS seems like someone's outdated idea of what China and Mandarin should be (painful sacrifice), not reflective at all of the dynamic, progressive models it should be striving toward in the 21st century.
We have been with CAIS for 8 years, and we are growing disappointed with the school, especially their middle school division. There have been a lot of changes of teachers in the last several years, and it seems more so in middle school. My 6 grader's math and science teacher left middle of the school year, and the replacement teacher does not have his heart in teaching. In fact, he has not checked the students' math homeworks once. There will be two very good 7th grade teachers leaving the school by the end of this school year, including the outstanding math teacher. There will be a new middle school director next school year as well. CAIS middle school is falling apart! There were some good teachers in the earlier years although some of them have left, and my rating is based on our current experience with the school, the teachers and the Principle's leadership.
I sent my child here for summer camp, so our experience is ltd to that. The camp organizer told me that they don't want their own students going there (b/c they need a summer break), so maybe they just don't care what goes on over the summer- and the regular school is better than what we experienced. Also, my child tested as fluent for SFUSD K-level Mandarin before entering here. In any case, w/all of that in mind- this is what I will say about CAIS: My child was bored, the aftercare was atrocious (e.g., they weren't allowed to go outside b/c the teacher couldn't control them), there were no field trips, the classroom was like a cave with no natural light, the teachers tried to push gender stereotypes on my child, & my child left there thinking the teacher did not like her, and that she was going to be "bad at school." If your child is bright and energetic, this school will be a bore. If your child already speaks Mandarin, they probably will be bored. If you are a progressive thinker, this school will appall you. There are better options. I would send my child to a Chinatown summer camp for 10% of the price before I would go back there.
After suffering through the public school Mandarin Immersion program for a couple years, we are very happy here. The teachers are great and set reasonably high expectations within a very supportive context. My child's literacy in both English and Chinese is moving forward at great speed. My child's intellectual curiosity is also well stimulated by the great science and arts projects that are taught. The new head of school is very knowledgeable about Chinese culture, history and language. He speaks Chinese very well. And there are many parents who participate to support both academic achievement and school fundraising. There are also very supportive learning specialists who support the teachers in identifying learning problems quickly, so they can be addressed quickly.
My children have been attending CAIS for several years now and we are very happy with the education they are receiving. The students are very well prepared to enter the high school of their choice. Teachers are truly top-notch and the curriculum is excellent. The biggest challenges for the school right now are finding good administrative staff and leadership. Next year there will be a new Head of School, Middle School Director and PreK/K Director. While there are challenges ahead, these are typical of schools growing from a "small school" to "big school" in a relatively short period of time. I am discouraged with the current lack of good communication, strong leadership, and professionalism but am optimistic with the new hires and time, all will resolve. The education is excellent (I try to ignore the rest!).
After sending three of my children to CAIS from K-8th, I have to say that I am completely satisfied! The kids all speak Chinese fluently with my grandparents, and all were perfectly able to understand people when they went on the Shanghai exchange trip. The Lower School curriculum is slightly better than average, but in Middle School, the quality just explodes! A host of brilliant teachers, especially the Math teacher. I was completely satisfied with their education, and all three are doing incredibly well in high school and beyond right now.
I have two children at CAIS (1st and 3rd grades). We have had excellent teachers who have inspired them to learn in all the years that we have been there. We have been particularly impressed with the CAIS families that we have gotten to know over the years - we thought the community is more diverse socio-economically as well as in terms of nationalities than communities of most other private schools that we are familiar with. Although the mandarin instruction is clearly a main reason why we chose CAIS, we had looked carefully at all the other elements that we believe are important for our children and our family - interesting people, support within the community, strong values, and positive overall learning experience. Is the school perfect? Probably not. Has it met our high expectations? Definitely.
I have two children that attend CAIS and they both love the school, their teachers and friends. As a family, we have connected with the CAIS community and feel like we are apart of a diverse interesting group of families with a common goal. Here is an example of why we love CAIS: we are a non-Mandarin speaking family and this summer I took my son, who is entering 1st grade, to China for the first time. I was amazed to hear over and over how well he spoke Mandarin and to see how relaxed and engaged he was with children and adults who only speak Mandarin in the middle of mainland China. My husband and I have always hoped our children would speak other languages fluently and without effort and CAIS is helping us to realize that dream.
My daughter has been attending CAIS for the past 5 years (pre through 3rd) and I have very mixed feelings. Mandarin had been my daughter's primary language through toddlerhood. As soon as she started preschool, she'd forgotten all the Mandarin she'd learned within months because all the kids around her spoke English. Even after 5 years, she still has difficulty saying a complete sentence in Mandarin. I do agree with other parents that the variance in language background does hinder the development of children with background in Chinese. I would prefer that the children are place in diferent classes based on their curent language/academic abilities, rather than mixing the entire grade level randomly. On the positive note, my daughter loves CAIS and excels in all subjects. I do agree that CAIS plays an important role in inspiring her love for learning.