COMSTOCK TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Come next fall, the English spoken by 3- and 4-year-olds, many who have barely learned their ABCs, will mix with the sounds of Mandarin in one Kalamazoo-area preschool room.

Comstock Public Schools is launching a first-of-its-kind Chinese immersion school for preschoolers.

“There’s a lot of studies that show that being bilingual or multilingual has tremendous cognitive benefits. We feel the sooner we can offer that to our constituents, the better,” Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Thoenes said of the early start.

Like in immersion programs for older students, the preschoolers’ daily dialogue would be bilingual: part Mandarin, part English. But unlike the higher grade programs, there will be no writing.

“Three-year-olds, 4-year-olds, it’s too early for them to begin writing the Chinese language, the scripts,” Thoenes said. “And so it will be through music, through play, through traditional Chinese activities.”

The programs will be held at Green Meadow Elementary, which will house the district’s Early Learning Academy next year. There will be two sessions, one morning and one afternoon, each with 16 students. Like regular preschool, parents will pay tuition of about $1,000 a month for their kids to participate.

Thoenes expects Kalamazoo’s Chinese community will show an interest, but he says most parents will see the value in teaching their child one the world’s most popular languages.  

“There are 1.5 billion Chinese, roughly, in the world and it’s the most spoken language of any in the world,” Thoenes said.

The district has teamed up with Western Michigan University for the program.     

“When we got this connection, Western Michigan just down the road, literally, from us, has the Confucius Institute and they provide teachers for programs like ours,” Thoenes said.

If it’s successful, Thoenes hopes the program can be expanded beyond preschool.  

If you’re a parent and have more questions, the district will hold an open house from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday. Details can be found on its website.