Classroom trend: Teaching ChineseThree years ago, Alexandria School District 206 made the decision to add a new foreign language class to its curriculum. The language was Mandarin Chinese and it appears the school district made the right choice.
By: By Celeste Beam, Staff Reporter and Don Davis, State Capitol Bureau, Alexandria Echo Press
Three years ago, Alexandria School District 206 made the decision to add a new foreign language class to its curriculum.
The language was Mandarin Chinese and it appears the school district made the right choice.
District 206 students, along with 5,500 others across the state studying the Chinese language, are part of a mushrooming movement that started in the Twin Cities and is moving out into rural areas.
The number of Chinese-language students in Minnesota public schools has grown five-fold in recent years, with no end of the interest in sight.
To put the growth into perspective, there are more Minnesota students learning Chinese now than in the entire country in 2000. And with China’s economy growing to the point that, in some economists’ minds, it will surpass the American economy by 2030, Chinese is becoming a language of commerce around the world.
During its first year in District 206, Mandarin Chinese I was a choice for students in 10th through 12 grades. In its second year, Mandarin Chinese I and II were offered to students at the high school level and to 9th graders at the middle school level, noted Julie Critz, director of teaching and learning for District 206.
Now in its third year, 8th grade students also have an opportunity to learn the language during a six-week exploratory class. They also have the opportunity to learn Spanish and French.
“The interest is there,” said Critz. “With a global economy, it was necessary for us to do this. It is a nice alternative for students.”
In 2006, Governor Tim Pawlenty recognized China’s importance when he called for more Chinese classes in school districts. At that time, there were 1,233 Minnesota students taking Chinese language classes. Now, there are 5,572 Minnesota students enrolled in a Chinese language class.
Also in 2006, President George Bush launched an initiative to increase funding for foreign language teaching, including not only Chinese, but also Arabic.
Some of those federal funds remain, but the recession dried up state money to expand Chinese classes.
Critz noted that Alexandria School District 206 did not access any state or federal dollars for funding of the Mandarin Chinese class that is offered.
District 206 has always been a three-language school, but when it dropped German a few years back, it only offered two languages – Spanish and French.
Mandarin Chinese was added, which brought the school back up to three languages, because the language is becoming more prevelant, she said.
The current teacher of the Mandarin Chinese class for District 206 is Pengyi Yao, who is a native speaker of the Chinese language. Critz said she was initially certified in China to teach the Mandarin Chinese class.
“It is truly hard to find a native speaking teacher,” said Critz, “but we were fortunate.”
Yao has taught the class all three years it has been offered.
The number of Chinese language teachers around the state has grown from seven in 2001 to 36 this year.
Minnesota Department of Education has yet to compile a list of districts offering Chinese courses this year, but last year among the 26 districts with Chinese programs, the few outside the Twin Cities area included Mankato, Fairmont and Alexandria.
Jefferson High School Principal Chad Duwenhoegger noted that the Mandarin Chinese class is going well at the high school level and that currently, there are 13 students learning the language.