FREMONT — With the financial backing of community groups, the Fremont school board has agreed to launch a Mandarin-English dual-language immersion program this fall, pending sufficient enrollment.

The K-6 program would start with one kindergarten class of 30 students at Azevada Elementary in September, with another grade level added each year. Startup costs are estimated at $11,000 per classroom for instructional materials and teacher training.

With the district facing an approximately $28.3 million deficit, school board members said they would support a new program only if community members raised the funds.

No money from the district's general fund shall pay for the program, although $25,000 in other funds already allocated to support English learners or immigrant students could be used, said Juan Espinosa, director of the district's federal and state projects department.

Albert Wang, a member of the Fremont-based Citizens for Better Community, said $10,000 has been collected from private donors so far.

An immigrant from Taiwan, Wang said being bilingual has helped him as a doctor to communicate with patients. "And China is a rising power in the world. As much as English has benefited me, so will Chinese benefit English speakers in this country," he said.

Students in the program would start out in kindergarten speaking Mandarin 90 percent of the school day. By fifth grade, the school day would be split equally between Mandarin and English.

Studies show that students in language-immersion programs may score lower on English proficiency tests in the early grades, but they eventually catch up to, and sometimes surpass, their peers in high school.

In addition to requiring community fundraising, the school board set the condition that students normally assigned to Azevada shall not be displaced to make room for the language-immersion students.

The immersion program would be open to students throughout the district. If too many students enroll, they would be selected by a lottery system.

An informational meeting will be held 6-7 p.m. Tuesday in Azevada's multipurpose room, 39450 Royal Palm Drive. For details, call 510-657-3900 or go to cipcf.wordpress.com.

Contact Linh Tat at 510-353-7010. Follow her at Twitter.com/Linh_Tat.