How do non-Mandarin speakers learn Mandarin?

Many PKS families have no Chinese language experience at all. Our targeted immersion approach allows children to absorb the language and adapt to it naturally. At the preschool and kindergarten stages, children do not need every word to be translated for them. By observing and interacting in an environment that immerses them in Mandarin, they are able to figure out meaning from context, thereby picking up vocabulary. Our teachers use a variety of verbal and nonverbal communication techniques to facilitate understanding, and they adjust their strategies to the individual level of each child as the school year progresses. Read more about Mandarin immersion at PKS.

Do you provide lunch and snacks?

Lunch is not provided. Parents either pack a lunch for their children or sign up with SchoolFoodies, our hot lunch provider. For preschool students, snacks are provided twice a day (a starch and a fruit) along with milk (which is also provided with lunch). Elementary students bring their own snacks to school. Water is available throughout the day. 

My child has allergies. How do you address this concern?

We maintain a strict no nuts environment on school grounds and field trips. If your child has other allergies, we will work with you to develop a plan to accommodate these at the classroom level.

What are the expectations around fundraising?

We ask all families to contribute to the Red Envelope Annual Fund and the Capital Campaign in whatever way is meaningful to their family. Together, we are building what we hope to be a longstanding San Francisco institution, and we hope all families will share this vision and participate in our growth.

How is discipline handled in the classroom?

Through positive guidance and behavior modeling, teachers help children self-regulate and act responsibly. In our approach:

  • Expectations are limited to what is realistic for the developmental level of the child, and they are clarified so that the children understand what is expected of them.

  • Teachers model appropriate behavior.

  • Teachers encourage children’s efforts to build feelings of self-worth.

  • Children are given alternatives, which enable them to turn destructive situations into constructive ones.

  • Natural and logical consequences are used to motivate and empower children to make responsible decisions about their behavior.

  • Behaviors such as cooperating, helping, negotiating, and problem-solving are encouraged and acknowledged.

If, in our judgment, any child’s behavior places the well-being of other children in jeopardy, we will work with parents to develop a plan. If the behaviors continue, we will act quickly and decisively to resolve the situation.

Does the school teach traditional or simplified Chinese?

Presidio Knolls School teaches simplified Chinese, the standard for mainland China.

My child has unique learning needs. How will PKS accommodate different learning styles?

While PKS is not able to support all learners, our intimate learning environment allows teachers to get to know each student and his or her passions, strengths, and areas for continued development. From high-achievers to students with learning challenges, we seek to provide an environment that understands and embraces each child’s needs. We carefully cultivate a learning experience that will allow all of our students to reach their full potential.

Will there be after-school enrichment options for my child?

Yes. PKS provides a multitude of after-school enrichment and club options both in English and Chinese for our students from preschool through middle school. These options range from art to athletics to engineering to music - all taught by PKS faculty or community experts. 

What are school hours?

Early morning care begins: 7:30 am
Curbside drop-off (elem/middle): 8:00-8:25 am
Classes begin:

  • Preschool: 9:00 am

  • Elementary: 8:30 am

  • Middle school: 8:40 am


  • P1 Preschool: 3:30 pm (Wed 3:00 pm)

  • P2 & P3 Preschool: 4:00 pm (Wed 3:00 pm)

  • Elementary: 3:30 pm (Wed 2:30 pm)

  • Middle school: 4:00 pm (Wed 2:30 pm)

Walk-in pickup: 10 min grace period
Curbside pickup (elem/middle): 15 min grace period
Aftercare ends: 6:00 pm

How can I learn about what is happening in the classroom?

Preschool teachers send daily newsletters via email, and elementary and middle school teachers communicate regularly over email and through our (login-only) class pages.

What should I expect with regard to parent involvement?

Parent involvement is a pillar of PKS life. We cherish our culture of engagement and contribution and rely on the generosity of the PKS community to sustain our school with gifts of time, expertise, and funds. Parents can often be found chaperoning field trips, joining class as visiting experts, or lending their expertise to the Parent Association.

What does parking look like?

Street parking is available around the school, as well as at several garages within walking distance.



What is a typical day at the preschool like?

A typical day depends on the specific age group and class, but will include meeting time, small group activities, snack time, indoor and outdoor playtime, story/reading time, lunch, and nap. Read more about our preschool program.

Do you help with potty training for young children?

Yes. Our preschool teachers support P1 children and their families with potty training and can accommodate pre-potty trained children. Our expectation is that P2 and P3 children should be potty trained.

Do you offer curbside drop off and pick up for preschool students?

At this time, we do not offer curbside drop off and pick up for our preschool students. We ask parents to walk children in and ensure they are settled into the classroom before leaving.



Why are you 80% Mandarin "full immersion?" Will my kids be prepared for US high school and college?

Your kids will be well prepared. Research has found that for immersion students there is no detriment to progress in their native language or to subject-matter achievement. English-proficient immersion students are capable of achieving as well as, and in many cases better than, non-immersion peers on standardized measures of reading and math.

Because students will learn primarily through multidisciplinary units of exploration, language learning will arise naturally from the content of units, and the content of units will be expressed through the target language of Mandarin. As with our mother tongue, we learn language by genuinely needing language and by using language every day for real and immediate purposes.

Elementary students also have English class one period a day with a native-speaking English teacher and many of the specialist teachers conduct their classes in English as well.

How can I help my child with homework if I don’t speak Mandarin?

Parents are not expected to help with homework at all, whether in Chinese or English. Progressive pedagogy cultivates and values independence in children, so we encourage our students to take pride in working through Chinese homework and assignments on their own, especially as they get into the upper grades. To make sure students are supported in learning and using Mandarin, Presidio Knolls School is structured to have a somewhat longer school day and more days in the school year, allowing students to learn more during school hours. We encourage parents to continue to support their children’s English abilities and vocabulary development by reading to them nightly.

I want to make sure my child has a strong foundation in math. What is your math program?

At PKS, math students are encouraged to take an active role in their learning process, to ask questions, and to search for patterns and meaning while developing a solid foundation of skills. Our math program is multilayered and challenges students to become mathematicians through hands-on projects, integrated assignments, direct instruction, and skill practice. The program provides a balance between the development of number sense and computational fluency, as well as between the development of conceptual understanding and the application of math to real-world problems. As we seek to support all students on their path to becoming both mathematically literate and able to apply mathematical concepts to their study of science and the humanities, our rigorous and comprehensive program meets or exceeds state and national standards and attends to the developmental needs of children and their varying abilities to move into increasingly abstract areas of math. 

Middle School

What does "progressive learning" look like in middle school?

Our middle school program is philosophically aligned with the progressive, student-centered aims of our preschool and elementary schools. We believe that far too often, the joy, connection, empathy, and curiosity cultivated in young children evaporates in middle school. Our program will assiduously defend these progressive aims.

Middle school students at PKS engage with one another in rigorous, collaborative, hands-on learning. They work on interdisciplinary, life-worthy projects. Our teachers foster their curiosity, empathy, and resilience. Throughout PKS, we believe that learning happens by doing! 

Why is immersion at the middle school level beneficial?

The benefits of Chinese language immersion for young children are now widely known. What is less recognized, is that the most astounding benefits of immersion accrue during middle school. It is here that metacognitive gains fully crystallize, as do measurable differences in executive functioning and nonverbal problem solving.

At PKS, we follow the research on both the importance and challenges of achieving bilingual proficiency (an achievement that occurs toward the end of middle school for most students). Fully proficient bilingual middle school graduates outperform peers who graduate from monolingual middle schools in areas such as divergent thinking, pattern recognition, and problem solving. They also exhibit greater empathy and score higher on high school entrance exams (particularly in math).

What else should I know about the PKS curriculum?

In “eduspeak,” our middle school curriculum is project based and interdisciplinary. What this means in practice is that the student experience is one of sustained, deep, authentic examination of complex issues. Our students are not shuttled through classes that divide the world into simple silos. At each grade level, students are asked a series of challenging, open-ended questions, and need to construct and present complex answers. This work requires research, long-term planning, real world application, and lots of tinkering. In the end, we don’t want our Middle Schoolers thinking of themselves as science students, English students, or music students; we want them to think of themselves as scientists, writers, and musicians. 

As part of real-world learning, what opportunities will my child have to travel nationally and/or internationally?

We educate our students for the world they will inherit, not the world that we remember. This requires them to be global citizens. Thus, PKS offers rich, sustained experiences off campus and outside of San Francisco in the form of PKS Travels | PKS东南西北.

Our students are travelers, not tourists, and will graduate as confident, curious, and engaged citizens of the world.

Where will PKS graduates go after 8th grade?  Will they be prepared for the standardized testing required for high school admissions?

We believe education is a joyous exploration of the world and the self, not a means to an end. But we also work assiduously to ensure that all graduates will find an ideal next step beyond PKS. We prepare our students for the SSAT in partnership with Test Innovators. And we work carefully, hand-in-hand with each family to help them navigate the stresses and complexity of high school admission.

I know that PKS does not give traditional grades. Why?  How do you assess students in lieu of grades?

For decades, social scientists have been telling us that grades diminish student interest in whatever they are learning. Grades also encourage students to choose the easiest possible tasks, reduce the quality and depth of student thinking, and hinder meaningful, clear feedback. Most significantly, we have known that over time, grades undermine students’ abilities to be creative, empathetic, and innovative. 

Thus, PKS eschews traditional grades, ranking, and prizes in favor of clear, frequent, meaningful dialogue and written feedback. Parents will hear often from teachers, and they will understand exactly how their child is progressing through the curriculum. The discrete skills our students develop will never be hidden within an opaque letter grade. Our kids will be clear on what they are learning, how they are growing, and where they need to work.

I want to make sure my child has a strong foundation in math. What is your math program?

After a multi-year examination of middle school math programs, we adopted the Connected Math Project curriculum. This program was developed through the National Science Foundation to allow students to develop rich mathematical understandings as well as procedural and fact fluency. 

Although the Connected Math Project is often used starting in 6th grade, we begin to use it in 5th grade (thus accelerating the program). Our teachers emphasize problem solving, reasoning, making connections between mathematical topics, and communicating mathematical ideas.

One additional hallmark of our program to note: each year in Middle School, students will experience two “deep dive” units in their math class.

Sixth Grade Deep Dives

  • Fractals - students will examine the careers of mathematicians who were “late bloomers” (including Michael Faraday, and Emma Noether) and view the Errol Morris’s film on Benoit Mandelbrot’s explanation of the fractal.

  • Cryptography - the untold story of the women who cracked the Enigma Code and helped defeat the Nazis.

Seventh Grade Deep Dives

  • “Euclidean” geometry - the various ways ancient cultures derived geometric principles

  • The Golden Ratio - math in art history

Eighth Grade Deep Dives

  • Pure and Applied Mathematics - appreciating the beauty in pure mathematics

  • When Mathematicians Write - transdisciplinary literature unit on mathematicians as writers featuring Symbolic Logic by Lewis Carroll and Flatland by Edwin Abbott

What courses are taught in Chinese? Which are taught in English?

Middle school students have one hour of English literacy and one hour of Chinese literacy per day. Our project block is taught by bilingual and bicultural teachers (this block is an extended 2-3 hour period per day and is taught 50-50 in Chinese and English). Math is taught exclusively in English in middle school. Electives are offered in both languages.