Milan Chavkin Sierra Palethorpe

Milan Chavkin, 4, and Sierra Palethorpe, 6, rallying against the school board’s decision to stop the Mandarin Immersion Program April 22, 2021 in Phoenix, AZ

David Lin and his wife, Sara, wanted their children to learn about their father’s Taiwanese heritage, so they enrolled them in Horseshoe Trails Elementary School’s Mandarin Immersion Program.

Now the Lins, as well as other Horseshoe Trails Elementary School parents, are up in arms because the Cave Creek Unified School District Governing Board fell victim to budget cuts.  

CCUSD officials did not return messages for comment. During the immersion program, students learn in Mandarin and English throughout the day.

“We’re beyond just sad,” Sara said. “We’ve already decided this is important for our family culturally as well as educationally. My husband’s first language is Mandarin. We are just super sad that the board just decided to up and make a unilateral decision.”

Sara said parents have a huge pool of resources as they’re from all professional walks of life. She advised the board should meet with those parents and figure out a plan to make the Mandarin Immersion Program stay. 

“If we need to pay a stipend, absolutely we would do that,” Sara said. “We feel so strongly about what it accomplishes — not only for the elementary school but for our kids as future leaders of America.”

David’s parents are from Taiwan, met at grad school in the United States and his mother gave birth to him in America. 

“We don’t speak a whole lot of Mandarin at home,” Sara said. “Watching my boys in kindergarten (Samuel) and first grade (Joshua) converse with each other is so cool. It’s really neat to see them embrace the culture. They’re really well-founded human beings.”

A cardiologist, David is discouraged with the school district. He and his wife are moving their children to a Mandarin Immersion Program with the Scottsdale Unified School District.

“Several parents have actually talked with the Cave Creek Unified School District administration to try to see if the Mandarin Immersion Program could be sustained in some part and form,” he added. 

“My wife and I think that, although it would really be nice to have, I don’t think it would be up to the ‘immersion’ program idea we would want for our kids.

“It would be an extra class or an elective. You have to be committed to make an immersion program work through and through. I’ve lost compete trust with the administration and the way they went about this.”

Sara added, “We sang the praises of the Cave Creek Unified School District for two to three years. We feel they’re the huge differentiator is the languages program. They did the easy thing. We’re reasonable people. We get numbers are numbers and there’s a shortfall in the budget. There was no struggle to try to save something that was the benchmark of the school system.”

The Lins aren’t the only parents pulling their children out of the district. Holly Weddle is a retired certified public accountant and has approached the board and district officials with alternative ideas. 

The superintendent posted a public letter about the program. In it, he wrote, the world language program costs $2.25 million. 

“When I saw that number, I thought that was very misleading at best,” she said. “For high school, you need to take world languages to graduate. It doesn’t make sense. The parents are so dedicated. We even had this two- to three-hour Zoom call with more than 100 parents.”

In response, Mandarin Immersion Program parents rallied at Horseshoe Trails Elementary School and before a board meeting. Parents also spoke at school board meetings.

“The amount of stress all the parents are going through is terrible and it hasn’t stopped,” Weddle said. “It’s been a completely uphill battle. My husband and I have met with the superintendent, the chief financial officer, the principal, the president of the board, the new executive leader. We put together a full deck showing them this is not going to help them financially but hurt you financially.”

Like Sara Lin said, parents are moving their children out of the district, which will, in turn, lose money. The district receives state and federal funding per student. Losing students means decreased revenue. 

“You sign a contract when you start the program committing to it through sixth grade,” said Weddle, whose daughter, Madison, attends the program. “That shows how incredibly committed the parents are. The Mandarin Immersion Program at Horseshoe Trails was started in 2015. Mackenzie would have attended in kindergarten. 

“We just keep getting canned responses and they never want to find a solution. We’re willing to fund it, but they say it’s an HR issue.”

Jennifer Cain is just as frustrated. Her daughter, Harper, is a Mandarin Immersion Program student. 

“It was very shocking when we received the phone call from the principal, on a very random Tuesday afternoon, saying the program’s been cut,” said Cain, who lives near Anthem. 

“There was no indication that this was going to happen—no warning whatsoever. There was no discussion about parents contributing funds or anything. It was just a shock.”

Cain, who attended a Mandarin Immersion Program while growing up in Canada, said she’s ready to battle. 

“We just wanted them to know that we’re still trying to get our voices heard and we want answers,” she said. “It’s tearing the whole immersion family a part. Our kids have gone through a lot already. To adjust from the online thing and then back to school, and then having to figure out a new school situation. It’s too much.”