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Jonathan Y. Lee's Blog

By Jonathan Lee | Agent in Burlingame, CA

San Francisco's Alice Fong Yu School --- What makes it so special?

So, what makes Alice Fong Yu Alternative Elementary School so special?


Alice Fong Yu Alternative School, the nation’s first Chinese immersion school, provides an outstanding educational experience for children of all backgrounds. English-proficient students experience a rich and challenging program. They develop competency in the Cantonese language and use the two languages to actively and successfully access the prepare students to become caring, responsible and competent citizens with global perspectives and credible skills in the Chinese language, who can face the challenges of the 21st century." A Mandarin-language component is added for upper-grade students. Grants and resources raised by an active parent association support a variety of enrichment programs, such as Performing Arts Workshop, Poets in the Schools, and science and library consultants. Parents help in the classroom, accompany classes on field trips and serve on various parent organizations.

Who is Alice Fong Yu?

Alice Fong Yu, the Teacher

In 1926, Alice Fong Yu became the first Chinese American teacher in the San Francisco Unified School District. The principal of Commodore Stockton Elementary School went before the school board and insisted Yu be hired as a teacher for the school's predominantly Chinese-speaking student body. The only bilingual teacher at Commodore Stockton, she suddenly found herself translator, social worker and all-purpose liaison.

Alice Fong Yu, a third-generation Chinese American, was born in California on March 2, 1905, in the small gold-mining town of Washington, along the banks of the Yuba River. Raised in a family of six girls and five boys, Yu attended elementary school in a one-room schoolhouse that still stands today.

Her father ran a general merchandise store for the Chinese who were mining the legendary "Gold Mountain"; in 1916, the family moved to Vallejo.

According to Alice Fong Yu's son, Alon, although his grandfather was from China, he was very progressive and wanted all his children, including the girls, to get an education. In those days, girls were not normally encouraged to get an education or enter a profession.

Yu married Jon Yong Chang Yu, a Chinese newspaper editor, writer and businessman, who died in 1966.

A Forty-Four-Year Career:

In 1922, Yu applied to San Francisco State, then known as San Francisco Normal Teachers' College, but then-president Frederick Burke discouraged her from attending, advising her that discrimination would prevent her from finding a teaching job, said Alon Yu.

But Alice Yu persisted, telling Burke she intended to go to China to teach English. "He reluctantly admitted her," Alon Yu said.

Upon graduation in 1926, Alice Fong Yu was hired at Commodore Stockton in Chinatown, where she taught 34 years. The last 10 years of her career, Yu traveled to various San Francisco schools helping students with speech disabilities. She retired in 1970.

The above text is excerpted from a story by Steven A. Chin with contributions from Marsha Ginsburg which appeared in the San Francisco Examiner, January 28, 1996.

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