This was in the International Herald Tribune the other day. It's about the Dual-Language Chinese program that Tristan and Zoe are enrolled in at their (and Jennifer's) school
East meets West in U.S. schools
By Edward B. Fiske International Herald Tribune
Published: October 16, 2006
CHAPEL HILL, North Carolina Paris Buedel is a typical American 8-year-old who is into basketball, piano lessons and Lego. And, oh yes, he spends half of each school day speaking Mandarin.
Paris is enrolled in a "dual immersion" program at the Glenwood Elementary School here in which the pupils - half native Chinese, half English speakers - do their lessons in two languages. The program is indicative of one of the fastest-growing curriculum trends in U.S. schools: the study of Chinese.
"Americans are used to hearing about people in other countries learning English. Now we're seeing the opposite trend," said Michael Levine, executive director of the Asia Society, which promotes international content in U.S. schools. "Parents and students are deciding that, since more people speak Mandarin than any other language, it might be a useful skill to have."
"We appreciate the importance of China in the global economy and the notion that our son's knowing Chinese may give him a leg up later in life," said Paris's mother, Janet Walters. "Every morning while reading the newspapers we can point to articles about China, culturally, politically and economically. China is everywhere."
Because interest in Chinese language and culture has taken off in the past few years, accurate statistics are hard to come by. A 2002 study at Princeton University put the number at 24,000 students in Grades 7 to 12, but, according to Levine, the current figure is certainly much larger.
This autumn the College Board initiated a new advanced placement curriculum and exam in Chinese language and literature. Thomas Matts, who supervises the program, estimated that possibly as many as 300 secondary schools were already in a position to offer the program. "We haven't seen such interest in a particular subject since the Soviet Union launched Sputnik and people got interested in Russian and physics," he said.
Rosemary Feal, executive director of the Modern Language Association, reported that the number of students in two- and four-year college courses studying Chinese rose by 20 percent between 1998 and 2002, to slightly more than 33,000. "Now that the pipeline is active at the high school level, we expect many more students to be enrolling in advanced courses," she said. She estimated that results of a new study now under way will show further increases of 25 to 50 percent.
The most ambitious program can be found in Chicago, where more than 5,000 students, virtually all of them native English speakers, are studying Chinese in 17 elementary and 10 high schools. The program, which began in 1999 in response to pressure from a group of parents, has been heavily promoted by Mayor Richard Daley and now has a waiting list of schools seeking to participate. "I think there will be two languages in this world," the mayor said. "There will Chinese and English."
Large programs can also be found in the suburbs of Washington, and other cities with cosmopolitan populations.
The program at Glenwood, which involves 116 of the school's 460 pupils, began six years ago when a group of parents put pressure on the local school district to begin teaching Chinese. Chapel Hill is a university town, site of the flagship campus of the University of North Carolina, and a substantial number of Chinese families work at the university or in nearby Research Triangle Park. Some of the English-speaking pupils are Chinese who were adopted as infants by American families.
The program began accepting 24 students each year into kindergarten, and the first cohort has now reached Grade 4. Each class is taught jointly by two teachers, one Chinese-speaking and the other English-speaking, who divide the curriculum. Students are admitted by lottery and there is a waiting list, Amy Rickard, the principal, said.
Teachers say they tend to use Chinese for concrete topics like geometry or science, and English for more abstract concepts. "It's relatively easy to deliver science in a second language," said Longzhi Lund, who teaches first grade. "It is hands-on and has a foundation vocabulary."
The biggest obstacle to expanding Chinese instruction in U.S. schools is finding qualified teachers. Robert Davis, manager of the Chicago program, said that he searched the Internet and even traveled in May to Shanghai, a sister city to Chicago, to recruit teachers for two-year stints. He said that the problem had been complicated by the federal No Child Left Behind legislation, which requires all teachers to be certified. "Illinois has no certificates for language teachers," he said. "So we had to work with the state to get one started."
Finding teaching materials is another bottleneck. Lund said that she and her teaching partner had to develop them from scratch. "We can't use materials from China because the curriculums are not aligned," she said. "So we download materials from the Internet and paste Chinese characters over English words in books."
Proponents of more study of Chinese in U.S. schools are finding an active ally in the Chinese government, which helped underwrite the Chicago program and new advanced Placement exam and has a new agreement with the College Board to build Chinese language programs in 2,000 public schools over the next five years. The U.S. Department of Education and the Ministry of Education in Beijing have cooperated to create Chengo, an online games- based program for beginning Chinese.
Walters said that Chinese parents at Glenwood were supportive of her son's study of their language. "We call them up for help with homework," she said.
She said that Paris viewed spending half of his day operating in Mandarin as quite normal for an 8-year old American boy. "He expects to use his Chinese language skills someday to run a Lego factory in China."
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