April 20, 2014

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Character development: Avon program teaches Mandarin Chinese

The students at Avon middle and high schools are speaking a whole new language, and it isn’t the pop-culture slang that many parents have come to expect from their adolescents.

No, this is something less expected: Mandarin Chinese.

JASON MILLER/CHRONICLE
Avon High teacher Jacqueline Chiang works on vocabulary and pronunciation with freshmen Paul Mayton (left) and Jordan Vaccarella on Friday. Chiang was recruited from China by Avon Schools as the first Mandarin Chinese teacher in the district.

The Avon Schools introduced the language as an elective course in the middle and high school curriculums this year prompted by a nationwide government effort to bring the Chinese dialect into American schools.

“With over one billion people worldwide speaking Chinese as their primary language, we felt it was necessary to introduce it to our students,” said Vicki Fisher, director of curriculum and instruction for Avon Schools. “Because we are a global economy, and with so much business being conducted overseas, it will be a very beneficial skill for them to have.”

According to an Aug. 26 article in the Washington Post, only 24,000 U.S students in grades seven through 12 are currently enrolled in a Chinese language class at their schools.  In January, the Bush administration announced an initiative to introduce Mandarin Chinese and other foreign languages pertinent to world relations and global business.

The aim of the initiative? To make Chinese as popular as Spanish and French courses — the current heavyweights of high school foreign language programs in U.S. schools.

Avon Superintendent Jim Reitenbach traveled to Taiwan in early July with a group of 20 school administrators from all over the United States. The trip was sponsored by the Tai Pei Economics and Cultural Office, located in Chicago. During his trip, Reitenbach met and interviewed several teachers from Taiwan, and deemed instructor Jacqueline Chiang to be a good fit.

“The plan was to begin the class next school year, but things went so smoothly that we were able to offer it this year instead.” Fisher said. “Miss Chiang moved here just a week ago and began teaching her classes immediately after her arrival.”

Fisher said that the school system plans to introduce additional Mandarin Chinese courses as the school years progress so that the students will be able to continue in a planned sequence. 

Right now, eighth-graders at Avon Middle School may take the first course for high school credit.

While the language has no alphabet, it contains thousands of characters that are put together to create words, making it one of the hardest languages in the world to learn.  Fisher said that students and parents alike are proud to have this challenging program available.

Avon is among only four Cleveland-area school systems to offer the course and the only system in Lorain County.
“It is an exciting and busy time for us.” Fisher said.

Contact Lee Ann Mullen at 329-7155 or metro@chroniclet.com.