In today’s increasingly global economy, students need to be prepared for a future that is unknown. Yu Ying–nurturing excellence in Chinese–was founded in 2008 by a small group of parents who believed all D.C. children have the right to a quality education that opens doors to that unknown future. As the only public school in Washington, D.C., to offer Mandarin Chinese immersion, Yu Ying offers a world-class public education to nearly 600 students in pre-K through grade 5.
In addition to equipping students for globally-minded careers, the school is built on the belief that bilingualism fosters a deeper understanding and connectedness to other cultures. Yu Ying offers full Chinese immersion for 3- and 4-year-olds, and in kindergarten to 5th grade, students learn in both Chinese and English by switching between their English and Chinese classrooms each day.
Chinese tradition and connection to the outdoors is woven into all facets of the school experience. The school’s art studio incorporates natural materials such as leaves and flowers into projects and crafts, and all students help maintain a garden on school grounds.
Yu Ying’s campus is situated on three acres of land–a rarity for any urban school–and includes an undeveloped portion called Founders Forest, which has been outfitted with outdoor classrooms that allow teachers to hold class outside, immersed in nature.
In recognition of the school’s stewardship to the environment, the Department of Education in 2013 named Yu Ying a “National Green Ribbon School” to celebrate the school’s commitment to lessening its environmental impact, improving health and wellness, and teaching subjects that promote civic mindedness and green career pathways.
This international focus is a huge draw for parents of all backgrounds: Yu Ying is one of the most diverse schools not only in D.C. but in the country, recognized by Public School Review as a "Most Diverse School in the U.S." The school’s most recent demographic data shows the student population to be 36% African American, 30% White, 19% Multiracial, 10% Asian, and 5% Hispanic/Latino.
Executive Director Maquita Alexander was one of those parents drawn to the school for its global mindset. Her own children attended Yu Ying because she wanted the best public school option for them. When Yu Ying was searching for a new school leader, she knew she had to step up – even though she wasn’t fluent in Chinese herself. But as a career educator, Maquita knew what good education should look and sound like, and wanted to make a difference for all DC students, not just her own.
At Yu Ying, Maquita and other school leaders foster a community of learners who are confident in their ability to read, write, and think in Chinese and English and have intercultural understanding and respect. Students, parents, and teachers all rally behind the school’s ethos, grounded in five pillars: nurturing, diversity, rigorous, collaborative, and innovation.
Academically, Yu Ying uses the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme curriculum framework, which encourages students to dig deeper into classroom material by using an inquiry-based model. It is a Tier One, High Performing school, and students’ assessment results were among the highest of all D.C. public school students.
But equally important is the school’s focus on culture, outdoor learning and exercise, and fun. The school’s fifth grade students have participated in Chinese exchange visits, allowing them the opportunity to travel to China for two weeks to visit historical sites, participate in a homestay with a host family, and attend class at Yu Ying’s sister school, the Zunyi Number 11 Middle School.
Back in D.C., students can participate in afterschool activities like sports, STEM classes, arts, and creative writing and enrichment classes such as Chinese Martial Arts, Chinese Dance, Chinese Songs, Chinese Culture, and Chinese Homework.
Washington Yu Ying and the school's Executive Director Maquita Alexander will officially be inducted into the National Charter Schools Hall of Fame at the 2018 National Charter School Conference in Austin, Texas.
Kat Sullivan is the director of advocacy communications at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.