By Laurie Gustafson
According to the Center for Applied Linguistics, thousands of schools across America have decreased their foreign language offerings in the last decade. In the midst of this decline, however, there appears to be a race by schools to offer instruction in Chinese.
Experts say there are several factors fueling this surge, but one likely reason is parents, students and educators recognize the expanding influence of the world’s most populous country.
“Proficiency in languages other than English and meaningful understanding of international cultures is critical in our global society and economy,” said Patricia Tennant, Principal of Saint Francis High School in Mountain View, a school that recognized the burgeoning interest to study Chinese and responded by establishing a comprehensive program in 2007.
“Providing opportunities for our students to study and serve varied communities of the world reflects the global vision of the late Blessed Father Basil Moreau, founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross. He understood, over 170 years ago, that a comprehensive education based on Gospel values could bring purpose to students’ lives in the chaos of the society that surrounds them,” Tennant explained.
Saint Francis offers four levels of Chinese, as well as AP Chinese, and is home to several clubs and activities that support its Mandarin program. The school’s iFamily Club promotes cross-cultural communication between American and Chinese high school students through the use of various
technologies, including Skype.
Its members recently had the opportunity to interact face-to-face with their Chinese peers when they served as on-campus tour guides for ten students and five teachers visiting from Shenzhen Middle School, an elite Chinese secondary school encompassing grades 10-12, who were visiting the U.S. to compete in a national physics competition.
There is also a thriving Chinese exchange program at Saint Francis which recently welcomed 23 students and two teachers from Sinolink Primary School in Shenzhen, China. Sinolink students spent their days at St. Joseph Elementary School in Mountain View, Saint Francis’ local partner in the exchange.
“Any chance we have to broaden the horizons of our students and introduce them to cultures and languages other than their own is a gift,” explained St. Joseph Principal Stephanie Mirenda.
“I consider time spent with these students a blessing. Each year, our students pick up a little more Mandarin, and I hope they will advance to the Saint Francis Chinese classes when they become Lancers,” Mirenda said.
Visiting students attend Saint Francis Mandarin teachers Michael Conley’s and Wei-Li Huang’s Chinese classes where they share customs and culture. Students stayed with Saint Francis and St. Joseph host families.
Conley said, “It is clear parents and students view China’s emergence as important and believe that fluency in its language and appreciation of its history and culture is worthwhile.”