Photo By: DAVID EGEN/SPECIAL TO THE TOWN CRIER
St. Francis High School offers Chinese instruction and hosts an exchange program that recently welcomed 23 students from Sinolink Primary School in Shenzhen, China, above.
Thousands of schools across the U.S. have decreased their foreign language offerings in the past decade, according to the Center for Applied Linguistics. Amid the decline, however, a trend has emerged: a race by schools to offer instruction in Chinese.
Several factors may be fueling the surge, as many parents, students and educators recognize the expanding influence of the world’s most populous country.
“Proficiency in languages other than English and a meaningful understanding of international cultures is critical in our global society and economy,” said Patricia Tennant, principal of St. Francis High School, which established a Chinese program in 2007.
St. Francis currently 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 U.S. and Chinese high school students via various technologies, including Skype.
Its members recently interacted face-to-face with their Chinese peers when they served as on-campus tour guides for 10 students and five teachers visiting from Shenzhen Middle School, a Chinese secondary school for students in grades 10-12, who were visiting the U.S. to compete in a national physics competition.
St. Francis also sponsors a Chinese exchange program. The program, in its third year, recently welcomed 23 students and two teachers from Sinolink Primary School in Shenzhen. Sinolink students spent their days at St. Joseph’s Elementary School in Mountain View, St. Francis’ local partner in the exchange, where they participated in classroom activities and interacted with their new American friends at recess and lunch.
“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,” said St. Joseph Catholic School Principal Stephanie Mirenda-Knight.
Throughout their stay, the Chinese students visited St. Francis Mandarin teacher Michael Conley’s Chinese 1, 2 and 3 classes as well as Wei-Li Huang’s Chinese 4 and AP classes, where they shared their customs and culture as they helped St. Francis students develop their Mandarin language skills. The students stayed with St. Francis and St. Joseph host families in the evenings and on weekends.
Conley said he is happy to see the Chinese language finally taking root in America.
“It is clear parents and students view China’s emergence as important and believe that fluency in its language and the appreciation of its history and culture is worthwhile,” he said.
Laurie Gustafson, whose daughter Sophie traveled with 16 other St. Francis students to Shenzhen last summer with the exchange program, agreed.
“If we look forward into our students’ lives, they will be communicating and conducting business with China more than ever,” she said. “Understanding both the Mandarin language and the Chinese culture puts them in a good position to thrive.”