LOS ANGELES, Mar. 7 (Xinhua) -- In the latest wave of budget crises in California, many small schools have been forced to close, but Barnard Elementary School, located in Point Loma close to the world famous SeaWorld entertainment park in San Diego, survived.
Principal Edward Park said it is the Chinese classes the school offered in 2007 that have saved the school from being shut down.
Barnard Elementary School is a small school with only 148 students in 2007. To cope with the serious budget shortage, the school district decided to close schools with students fewer than 500. Barnard Elementary School was on the list to be cut.
School administrators went to the community to seek ways to save the school. Among many suggestions, to open Chinese classes attracted most attention, said Park.
Two Chinese teachers, Sally Lowe from San Francisco and Lei Li from Riverside County were hired to teach. Beginning in the Fall Semester, 2007, all students from kindergarten to fifth grade in the school have been required to attend a 45-minute Chinese class every day.
Besides Chinese language, students also learn Chinese culture. Now many teachers wear Tang-style Chinese clothes at school, Chinese character cards are posted everywhere in the classroom, and Chinese art crafts, toys and books are on display on campus. The school is "very China."
The offering of Chinese classes helped attract more students to the school and made the school famous in San Diego. It became the first elementary school in the city to offer Chinese classes to all students and served as a model to teach Chinese culture. The school district finally removed from its list to close the Barnard Elementary School.
Not far from San Diego, more Chinese classes started earlier in Los Angeles area. Wilson High School in Hacienda La Puente Unified School District pioneered in Southern California to open its first Chinese class at public schools in 1992. The second Chinese class was opened at Los Altos High School in 2004.
Hacienda La Puente Unified School Board member Norman Hsu said now five elementary schools in the school district offer Chinese classes. In 2007, two middle schools (equal to junior high school)began to offer Chinese classes. On March 2, 2009, Yunnan Province in China sent a delegation to the school district to open a Confucius Classroom at Cedarlane Middle School. Yunnan Normal University will send teachers to the school to teach Chinese language and culture.
According to Hsu, who has been a school board member for 18 years, the school district is also proud of having the first kindergarten in Southern California to start bilingual education. Wedgeworth Kindergarten started to teach Chinese to all kids from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. everyday before English classes are taught.
Chinese programs at schools are well accepted by parents in the district, Hsu said. He said one Hispanic parent told him that he supported his kid to learn Chinese because he believed that the Chinese language skill would make his kid more competitive in the future.
The Los Angeles Unified School District announced last year that a Mandarin in the Schools Committee, convened by the Committee of 100 with representatives of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, the Asia Society, the City of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Unified School District, the California State Universities at Long Beach and Los Angeles, Southern California Council of Chinese Schools, University of California Los Angeles' Confucius Institute and others, has collaborated in the proposal of "Mandarin and World Languages in the Schools" to build capacity and systematically increase the offering of Mandarin and less commonly taught languages in the school district.
Chinese programs have been expanded to schools throughout the United States. Based on a list provided by Asia Society, about 264schools in the U.S. now offer Chinese classes, and 40 of them are in California.
Minnesota University has set up a database to list all colleges and universities in the U.S. which offer Chinese classes. A total of 185 colleges and universities in the U.S. now have Chinese programs. California also leads the country with 38 colleges and universities offering Chinese programs.
U.S. educators argued that Chinese is spoken by more than one billion people. Yet just a few years ago, teaching Chinese wasn't even an afterthought in U.S. schools.
A national survey in 2000 by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages estimated that 5,000 students were learning Chinese -- barely a blip compared to the 4.8 million learning Spanish.
Today it is estimated that about 50,000 students in the U.S. are learning Chinese, making Chinese far and away the fastest-growing foreign language ever taught.