Samoan Dual Language Pre-K Program launched in the Bayview!

An instructor sits with her class at the diverse Leola M. Havard Early Education School right here in Bayview! Leola Havard will be the first SFUSD school to offer a Samoan Dual Language Learner Pre-K. Our city of San Francisco is home to several thousand people who are Samoan or are of Samoan descent and stay closely linked with our Black communities here. Bayview Hunters Point, Potrero Hill and Sunnydale are where a majority of the city’s Samoan population lives.

by Daphne Young, Education Reporter

When the fall 2021-22 semester begins on Aug. 16, 2021, the Leola M. Havard Early Education School in the Bayview Hunters Point community will offer for the first time a new dual language program. 

The San Francisco Unified School District is set to begin instruction in the Samoan language to pre-k students at Havard, which will be the first school in the district to offer early education instruction in the Samoan language.

“We’re super excited to bring this to the Bayview,” said SFUSD School Board Vice President Faauuga Moliga. “Why the Bayview? Because Bayview is the home to the largest Samoan population in San Francisco. [SFUSD Samoan students] all reside in either Potrero Hill, out in Hunters Point or in Sunnydale. So, myself and Chief Meenoo are here today to talk about this amazing dual language pre-k program that we’re getting ready to kick off.”

Vice President Moliga joined me recently by Zoom, along with Meenoo Yashar, chief of SFUSD’s Early Education Department, and Laura Dudnick, SFUSD’s public relations manager. The trio announced the first Samoan dual language program at any SFUSD school during our interview, which you can watch in its entirety here.

“We have several dual language classrooms in SFUSD already,” said Chief Meenoo Yashar. Currently, there are four SFUSD schools that offer a pre-k dual language program in Cantonese and six other SFUSD schools offer a Spanish dual language learner pre-k program. Plus, Dual Language Immersion Pathway Programs are being taught at 15 SFUSD schools across the district. Click here for a complete list.

Samoan Dual Language Learner Pre-K at Leola Havard Early Education School, SY 2021-2022 

The Leola Harvard Early Education School is the first SFUSD school to offer a dual language program in the Samoan language for pre-k students.

According to SFUSD, there will be one teacher and two assistants in the new Samoan dual language classroom at Havard because of state requirements for pre-k educational programs. The classroom will also hold approximately 22 students, and it will be taught 50-50.

From the very beginning, students see themselves in the classroom, they hear the language in the classroom and that connects to their identity.

“Fifty-percent in Samoan and 50 percent in English,” said Chief Yashar. According to Yashar, the Samoan Dual Language pre-k teacher will use many ways – including songs, pictures, games and books – to teach children both Samoan and English.

In addition, Chief Yashar said: “When the Samoan language is spoken, the teacher is actually instructing the pre-k classroom in the Samoan language. It’s not about translating. It’s actually about speaking the language. And that’s very different because we do want students to be able to not only hear their home language, but if this is a new language for them also, it’s an opportunity for them to develop listening skills and critical thinking skills. 

Two young dual language learners at Leola M. Havard Early Education School

“What students would find when they come into the classroom is a Samoan teacher who speaks the language and is of the culture. They will see in the classroom Samoan written language, art, resources and materials throughout their preschool classroom woven in throughout the art area, dramatic play area and science area, all weaved in culture and language,” stated Yashar.

“We want students to see themselves reflected in our curriculum, and when we start very, very early with that, as we’re doing in our pre-k dual language classroom, students get that from the very beginning. They see themselves in that classroom, they hear the language in the classroom and that connects to their identity.”

Meanwhile, School Board Vice President Faauuga Moliga tells us why bringing this new dual language program to a Bayview school is so important. “We have an opportunity right now to really uplift a specific population in the Pacific Islander community with our Samoans.” 

Moliga said: “As you all may know, when you talk about Pacific Islanders within San Francisco, what you’re really talking about is the Samoans who have migrated here and have been in the city for over 100 years. The problem that we’re trying to address today is the inequities that have occurred within our city.”

Moliga, who is Samoan, added: “I grew up knowing that diversity was important. So, as a school board member and as the vice president today of the Board of Education, for me, it’s important that our school district continues to drive diversity and inclusiveness in San Francisco.”

 The more our children are exposed to diverse languages and culture, the better they will be at being global citizens and navigating our ever-changing world with respect and an open mind.

“Pre-pandemic, when you talk about truancy rates, dropouts, parent engagement, this community has been at the top in terms of not good rates,” said Moliga. “So, during the pandemic we have run into situations where engagements with Samoan students, Latin students and Black families have been very similar.” 

Moliga added: “And, when you talk about what is the solution, specifically for our Samoan kids, who come from an indigenous background, we’re talking about culture, and the root of culture is really around language.”

“The more young children are exposed to diverse languages and culture, the better their critical thinking skills are and the better they are at being global citizens.”

Chief Yashar said: “We want to, of course, encourage our Samoan families to enroll. But we are also very interested in families who are connected to the Samoan community, maybe through extended family, or have an interest in learning the Samoan language and culture as well to consider applying for this new dual language program.” 

Yashar added: “The more young children are exposed to diverse languages and culture, the better their critical thinking skills are and the better they are at being global citizens, which is one of our graduate profiles as well. So, it’s part of that in terms of high school success and college and careers.”

Do you want your child to learn or continue to learn Samoan? 

The Leola Havard Early Elementary school is on Oakdale Avenue just off of Third Street at 1520 Oakdale Ave., Room 30. Enrollment is now open for the Samoan Dual Language Pre-K Program at Havard. So, if you’re interested in enrolling your child or for more information about the program, call 415-401-2500, ext. 1000. You can also fill out the SFUSD Interest Form here.

Whether your family is Samoan or not, this is a wonderful opportunity to support ancestral culture and language in the classroom and preserve the Samoan language and culture in our community. Plus, studies show, when children learn languages at an early age, they thrive and do better in school!

Currently, SFUSD schools offer 13 language programs at local pre-k, elementary, middle and high schools across the city. SFUSD language offerings include Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean, Filipino, Japanese, Arabic, Italian, French, Hebrew, Latin, Vietnamese and now Samoan.

Daphne Young is the Education Reporter at the San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper. The Chicago native is an award-winning journalist who’s covered news for radio and TV stations around the country. She attended San Francisco State University and is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. If you have an education story that you’d like to see the Bay View cover, please contact Daphne by email: education@sfbayview.com.