- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 8, 2005

RICHMOND — While most everybody from school administrators to Sesame Street producers was busy in the late 1980s reinforcing the importance of teaching Spanish to children, Fairfax County educators were reaching a different conclusion: The next generation needed to know Japanese.

“They just looked at the economy and the trade — our world is shrinking,” said Paula Patrick, foreign-language coordinator for Fairfax County public schools, which now offer Chinese, Japanese and Korean at more than a dozen schools.

Funding to expand Asian language courses is among the 14 recommendations included in a report documenting Asian concerns statewide. Other recommendations outlined in the Virginia Asian Advisory Board’s annual report range from more translation help at voting sites to better representation in school history books.

It was the second report by the board, created in 2001 to advise governors on issues ranging from Asian trade to Asian-American communities in the state.

One of the most striking recommendations this year involves opportunities to learn Asian languages in school.

The state Department of Education does not keep a count of how many schools offer courses in such languages, but among three of the fastest-growing areas identified in the 2000 census — Loudoun County, Prince William County and the city of Suffolk — none offers Asian language courses.

Reasons range from the lack of demand to the difficulty in finding a person capable of teaching the languages.

Robert Colorina, vice chairman of the advisory board, said students eager to become the business leaders of the future cannot succeed on just a couple of years of high school French.

“Much of the anticipated growth from some of the U.S. companies is anticipated in overseas markets,” he said. “It’s reflective of the changing face of our U.S. society.”

About 261,025 Asian-Americans lived in Virginia in 2000, according to the census. By 2004, the number increased to 326,563.

The report also recommends considering updated history textbooks with more accurate information about Asian culture, and funding for social studies teachers to take supplementary training in Asian history.

The board’s recommendations last year helped lead to a recent gubernatorial trade mission to Japan and India that, in part, resulted in more than $36 million in new development and at least 100 jobs in Virginia, according to the office of Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat.

“We would hope that future governors would share Gov. Warner’s interest in reaching and increasing economic ties to the Asian world,” said spokesman Kevin Hall. “We ignore Asia at our own peril.”

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