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USA The First Punjabi Public School


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
by Anju Kaur

Sikh children in Sacramento, California, will have an opportunity beginning this fall to attend the first Punjabi-language school in the United States.

The Sacramento Valley Charter School, a Punjabi non-profit group, received authorization from the Washington Unified School District Board of Education on June 9 to form the school.

“We’re providing a resource where kids feel good, pampered by their own community,” said Narinder Singh Dhaliwal, chairman of the school’s board of directors.

According to the California Charter School Association, a charter school is a public school created by a group of parents, teachers or community leaders who petition a local school board for a charter, or contract, to open an independent school in their community.

“At the kindergarten level, during this time, (we can do a) better our job to provide a safe learning environment by letting the child develop in a smaller environment,” Narinder Singh said. Kids perform better when they are in a familiar environment, he told the education board during the petition hearing.

“(Our) kids go through difficulties being different,” he told SikhNN. “Here they can learn in a familiar environment and learn how to handle bullies. Public schools don’t focus on social aspects. We can do better.”

Success also is a factor.

“We can’t leave a 5-year-old in a (public school) system that allows only 20 percent to be successful,” he added. “College is tough. Fifty percent of students who are very proficient will do well in college.”

According to the Census Bureau, men make less than $60,000 per year, on average. And women make about $45,000.

“Only one percent of earners will make over $100,000,” he said. Is this the dream we have? Only 20 percent chance to make $100,000?

The alternative is private schools. But there is a heavy cost associated with that option.

According to the charter school association, public charter schools offer a public school option to address the challenges facing traditional education systems. In this case, the challenge is the language barrier of children of Punjabi-speaking parents.

This school is funded by public money. With a $500,000 budget, $300,000 will go to renovate the building and $200,000 will go toward operating expenses, Narinder Singh said. The school will also receive $5,000 per child, and is expected to have 120 students this school year.

“It’s not much,” he added. “Most will go to salary and rent.” Private sponsors will help make ends meet. And federal funding is expected in the future.

Located on the property adjacent to the Sacramento gurdwara, the old langar hall building is being gutted to construct a building for the new school. The school will rent the building from the gurdwara.

The school is open to all students form kindergarten to sixth grade. Seventh and eighth grades will be added in 2012 and 2013, respectively.

The school’s faculty is in the process of creating its own curriculum, which will be based on the public schools framework but with higher expectations from students, said Michael Ettner, the principal.

“We’ll have to make it fun and innovative,” he said. “This is a language acquisition school, the first that has Punjabi as a second language. We offer cultural emersion, embedded throughout curriculum, with a language component. (Credentialed teachers) will take the lead in creating activities and opportunities to interweave it throughout the curriculum.

“The hope is that we’ll draw from the local community a representative sampling of other ethnic groups,” he added. A small school with a safe environment and high standards will also appeal to non-Punjabis.

Students will be required to wear a uniform of blue pants and light blue shirt. Sikh students will have to wear a blue dastaar. No hats allowed.

All students will receive a free vegetarian lunch and free transportation to and from school. Every student will also receive a mentor, a young successful adult, to connect with and envision the future.


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