- Associated Press - Friday, June 19, 2015

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) - Paper, paint brushes and cups of water were recently passed out to a group of Summer Expeditions students in a room at Hickman High School. The visiting Chinese instructor greeted the class with a cheerful “ni hao” before starting on a calligraphy lesson.

The Columbia Public School District began working with the University of Missouri’s Confucius Institute and Shanghai Normal University to bring the Chinese language to Columbia’s public schools nearly two years ago, the Columbia Missourian (https://bit.ly/1L77Dhg ) reported. It now offers an introduction to Chinese to middle-schoolers and Chinese levels 1, 2 and 3 for high schoolers. Students are also getting a taste of Chinese culture - like calligraphy - and history.

MU’s Confucius Institute, a nonprofit educational organization funded by the Chinese Ministry of Education, aims to provide Chinese language teaching, training and resources for instructors. The district hopes to create art, Chinese tai chi, Chinese folk music and dance classes.

“By 2016 or 2017, the CPS system should be awash with the Chinese language,” said Handy Williamson, MU vice provost for international programs and director of the Confucius Institute.

A delegation of seven Chinese student-teachers has been sent to Columbia to teach students about Chinese culture, language and arts. Six student-teachers from the delegation plan to stay throughout the summer and school year, Columbia Public Schools spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark said.

Students from Shanghai Normal University were chosen by the Confucius Institute through a process of testing that required nearly a half year to prepare for, according to Jenny Chan, a calligraphy teacher.

“This is such an amazing experience and opportunity for all of us,” Chan said.

Rising sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders enrolled in the Summer Expeditions summer school program spend an hour every morning learning about topics like calligraphy, history and culture, arts and language. Fifty-five high-achieving students who don’t qualify for the district’s gifted classes are enrolled in the program, which lasts four weeks, according to a brochure. Students will interact with Chinese educators, go on field trips and get math, science, reading and writing lessons.

Students from every district elementary school are in the program, Superintendent Peter Stiepleman said.

“Something deeply embedded like this lets the students have open minds,” said Wen Ouyang, a translator for the delegation from the Shanghai Normal University. “It opens their eyes to see the world and gives them more chances to be successful in the real world.”

Five language teachers and two art teachers rotate from classroom to classroom teaching students in the summer school programs.

Mindy Fang has been teaching part-time in China for five years and is spending June and July in Columbia teaching students about Chinese art. Fang said the experience has been challenging.

“The learning environment is so different here than in China,” she said. “They learn so fast.”

Fang, who apologized for her English, had a two-word assessment of the program: “It’s cool.”

The Institute and Shanghai Normal also have arranged to send several Columbia students to China next month. Last year, the program sent 14 middle-school students to China for a two-week summer camp.

This year, a group of eight students from Rock Bridge High School who have been taking Chinese and received A’s can travel to China all expenses paid by the Institute and Shanghai Normal.

Columbia Public Schools plans to send Hickman High School teachers Jana Wilson and Annelle Whitt to China this July with the student delegation. The exchange will last two weeks and aims to help educators learn how to better teach the Chinese language to students.

“We live in a global society,” Whitt said. “We want our children to be prepared from cradle to career.”


Information from: Columbia Missourian, https://www.columbiamissourian.com

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