We caught up with Vinay and Hansa Patel this week to talk about PKS, inclusion, and progressive education. The couple resides in St. Francis Wood with sons Shiv (Kinder Green) and Rishaan (Apple Tree).
Q: How did the beginning of the school year go for you and your boys?
Hansa: The transition this year has been really great. The teachers did a great job preparing our son to enter the elementary program from preschool. During the last few months of preschool, my son toured the elementary school, meet some of the teachers, and started recess time with other potential classmates. With our younger son, initially this year was a struggle because he had many changes like new teachers and students, but the teachers were attentive and patient. Now he is comfortable with the new changes and looks forward to school everyday.
Q: How did you get introduced to PKS?
Hansa: It was really accidental for us. My neighbor suggested that I check out her son’s school, PKS. My neighbor invited our family to a Halloween party, and it was mostly now-4th grader parents, and I felt really at home. They were all really nice parents, really warm and welcoming. At the party, I heard the kids, who were second graders at the time, walking around the neighborhood trick-or-treating and singing in Mandarin. The kids were a group of mixed ethnicity and voluntarily singing and laughing away in Mandarin language. I wanted this learning environment for our children. I speak Gujarati, a language from the State of Gujarat in India, and I’m teaching it to my sons. We want our boys to be multilingual. Thus, we decided to tour PKS. During the tour my husband and I looked at each other and said: “This is it!” We really wanted to give our children this kind of atmosphere. The chemistry was just instant, there was nothing to decide besides the admissions process.
Q: What attracted you to a language immersion school?
Vinay: I speak four languages: Hindi, the national language of India, Hindustani, which is spoken in Fiji, where I was born and raised, Gujarati, a language from the state of Gujarat in India, and English. I took a scientific approach and started doing research about multi-language education, how it helps the brain work. San Francisco has many different language immersion schools—Italian, French, Spanish etc. So I did some deeper research to find out what is the difference between learning a language, and I found out that there’s a difference between phonics-based languages and character based languages. Character-based language engages different parts of your brain and I became very interested in that. At one of our neighbor’s parties I ended up talking about this for 45 minutes with a woman who, unbeknownst to me at the time, was the founder of PKS.
Q: Were you looking for progressive education for your kids?
Hansa: It is who we are—I wanted us to focus on how our children want to learn, not have them learn a formula or be regurgitating information. We were definitely looking for a progressive program because that is who we are. Let’s say we are going to learn math. There is the opportunity to go out and experience it. We are going to the farmer’s market, here’s two bucks and let’s spend it. It’s the type of teaching we want and learning by interacting with the local community.
In the first month of being at PKS, our family experienced the progressive nature of our school. Our teachers identified that we have a cultural event, Raksha Bandan, a celebration of the bond between sisters and brothers and the teachers encouraged us to teach the children about our cultural event. We went to the class in our Indian clothing, with snacks and materials so the class could learn about it. I could not believe how engaged the teachers and students were to learning about other cultures and languages. PKS is a progressive and an inclusive learning environment.
Q: What are you looking forward to at the school, for its future?
Vinay: I just learned about plans for the middle school at the recent Town Hall. It was amazing. I was not even thinking about middle school. We love this school, and I wasn’t even thinking that far ahead, so it was amazing that people are working on that, it’s one less thing for us to worry about.
Hansa: I also like that people are working on the immersion program and planning for a trip to China. To really immerse our kids in the culture would be a phenomenal experience for them. We are excited about that. It was so inspiring to hear about middle school, to see the passion for teaching adolescents and talking to parents about how our kids are going to be changing physically and emotionally and we’re getting ready for all those changes.
Q: What else do you love about PKS?
Hansa: To my surprise, having our kids at a language immersion school has renewed my commitment to teaching our children about our Indian language and culture.
One of the other things I see growing is an emphasis on social justice. At PKS we have participated in social justice activities. I want my children to understand about social responsibility. My own life and career has always been about social justice. The sooner we teach that the better. I was glad to see that we had one of the city supervisors come and talk about homelessness, and for one of the units of inquiry the kids went on a field trip to the library for the blind. I chaperoned the field trip and I learned so much myself, it was great. The kids came back to PKS and created Braille signs all around their classroom.
Vinay: PKS is a melting pot of different cultures. If I walk down the street, and hear different languages being spoken, and when I meet up with families at school, I meet people from China, Latin America, Ireland. The school is all about what San Francisco is. San Francisco is diverse, the school is too—San Francisco is a progressive city, so is the school. If someone wants to be a global citizen and embrace cultural diversity, this is the school for them. It teaches them about participating in different cultures. It’s not just about tolerance, it’s about valuing other cultures.
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