Beginning this school year, Wilmette fifth-graders will have the option of taking Mandarin-Chinese as part of the 's world language program.
The district already offers students the opportunity to study Spanish, French, German, or Latin. However, with the increased significance of China's position in the global marketplace, and due to the success of New Trier High School’s Mandarin-Chinese language program, District 39 believes the new addition will reap large benefits for its students.
"When we look at the languages that are widely spoken, as well as important for business, Mandarin-Chinese, English, Spanish and German are languages that come to the top," said District 39 Superintendent Ray Lechner.
Twenty percent of the world's population resides in China, and Chinese is the most widely spoken language in the world, according to a report by the Community Review Committee, an advisory board to Wilmette Public Schools District 39.
Since fall 2011, the district has been working closely with New Trier High School’s Department of Modern and Classical Languages to ensure that District 39’s new program will align with the high school curriculum.
"Not only is this going to serve the students well, but serve their future employers and their country as well," said Todd Bowen, department chair of New Trier High School's world language program. "Many are citing the 21st century as China's century. Not only as an economic powerhouse, but as a world power,"
It's also important, Bowen said, that students not only become proficient in the language but understand Chinese culture as well.
"It really is about communication and culture," said Cathy Flemming, a curriculum coordinator for District 39. "That's imbedded in all our world languages, not just Chinese."
"Adding Chinese is simply a way to further develop for the future in the 21st century, getting students a deeper window now to the East," Bowen said.
Last school year, District 39 administered a survey to fourth-graders, and 50 students showed interest in learning Mandarin-Chinese. It’s enough, Lechner said, for two class sections for the 2012-2013 school year.
District 39 recently hired Yiyi Xu as the district's Mandarin-Chinese teacher and will be assisting in fine-tuning this year's program. She was chosen from 36 applicants.
"Ms. Xu's extensive knowledge of curriculum development and foreign language acquisition for elementary learners set her apart from other candidates," said Assistant Superintendent Margaret Clauson.
Xu, a native Mandarin-Chinese speaker from Guangzhou, China, received her certificate for elementary education at University of Wisconsin-Madison. She developed and taught a Chinese language program for third to fifth graders in Janesville, and has taught fifth to 12th graders in Oconomowoc, WI. She also has a degree in Mass Communication from Guangzhou, and a master's in Tourism Management and Sports Marketing from George Washington University.
"During [Xu's] demonstration lesson, she impressed us with her excitement, vibrancy, and ability to focus her lesson so that after 20 minutes students walked out the door having learned simple greetings and responses as well as how to count to ten," Clauson said.