We celebrated the milestone of completing the school’s 40th year of operation this spring at ShowCAIS 2021. By conventional reckoning in the US, the celebration of our actual “birthday” falls today, September 12, which is 40 years to the day of the first opening bell for the Chinese American Bilingual School (as we were originally known) in the basement of a University of California Extension Building. In the four decades since then, our name and campus locations may have changed, but the original, innovative spark—expressed by founder Carol Ruth Silver in her quote below—persists in our mission, vision, and core values.
“What we want our students to achieve is a true and profound bilingualism, an increased respect for others, an open-minded outlook and a more adequate understanding of the world around us. In our opinion these things are exactly what is needed to produce good, well-rounded citizens in modern America.”— Carol Ruth Silver, speaking to East West magazine in August 1981
When the doors of Chinese American International School opened on September 12, 1981, in the basement of a University of California Extension Building, four of ten enrolled students showed up for class. Undeterred, founder Carol Ruth Silver, and director Shirley Lee forged ahead.
CAIS attracted national attention from its inception. Former U.S. Senator Paul Simon handed out diplomas at CAIS’s first graduation in 1987. That same year, CAIS moved to the Presidio, and the U.S. Department of Education designated CAIS as the “national prototype for Chinese language education in elementary schools.”
Between 1992-1994, CAIS added the middle school grades. Soon after the middle school was established, Shirley Lee orchestrated the first exchange trip with Shanghai No. 3 Girls’ School.
In 1997, the school moved into its main campus at 150 Oak Street, with just 200 students including 28 middle school students. In 2010, the Early Childhood Division moved to its new home, The Alice A. Carnes Center, at nearby Waller Street.
From 1997-2015, our middle school population grew to 120 students, which led to the middle school moving to the 888 Campus, at the intersection of Gough and Turk Streets. Today, CAIS educates nearly 500 children on three campuses. Our future looks especially bright as we work toward purchasing our new home on 19th Avenue, with an eye toward moving in during the 2023-2024 school year.