A wise Chinese man once said, “A journey around the world begins with a single step.” The Naselle/Grays River Valley Schools has been offering young students the chance to embark on such a journey through a Mandarin Immersion program for elementary school students for the past four years.  The program which has increased in enrollment also allows Oregon students to enroll at their own cost.

Mandarin Chinese is the most spoken language in the world. And, the Mandarin Immersion program provides a more global education to students while enriching their learning experience. The goal at Naselle is for the students to become bilingual and bi-literate while achieving in academics. This can help the students to show greater academic gains, overall. It has been a successful and enriching program for the school district as well as an economic gain for our community.

Understanding the Teacher of Critical Language Program

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Elementary students at Naselle/Grays River Valley Schools spend about half of their school day in a Mandarin Immersion program. Photo courtesy: Liu Xing Naselle

Naselle/Grays River Valley Schools is part of the Teachers of Critical Language Program (TCLP), a multi-layered, cross-cultural program funded by the federal Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). It is administered by the American Councils for International Education. This program is designed to increase the number of Americans teaching and studying Mandarin.

The TCLP brings teachers from China to start or develop Chinese educational programs in U.S. schools. Awarded schools receive a native Chinese speaking teacher for a full year and the teacher is supported by the program with salary, housing, travel, training workshops, and support of the TCLP staff. Through a separate Chinese Guest Teacher Program, U.S. schools can develop and grow their Chinese language and cultural programs by hosting teachers from China. Guest teachers serve as full-time Chinese language and culture instructors.

Three teachers are provided for the Naselle/Grays River School District through two national grant programs: TCLP and the College Board, which partially funds two teachers. The remaining cost is picked up by the school district. The local school district pays the cost of each half-time Chinese teacher. Each teacher works 20 hours a week.

Serving Naselle Students

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During the 2017-2018 school year, there are three Chinese teachers working at Naselle/Grays River Valley Schools. Photo courtesy: Liu Xing Naselle

Since 2006, the program has served hundreds of K-12 schools and districts and has reached tens of thousands of students. The program is made possible through collaboration between the College Board and Hanban/Confucius Institute Headquarters in Hanban, China. The College Board also collaborates with the National Council of State Supervisors for Languages to review applications, interview, select and train the guest teachers. The Hanban Institute contributes $13,000 to each College Board teacher.

Naselle-Grays River Valley Schools is also working with schools in other Chinese provinces to provide more educational opportunities for students and teachers, including student and teacher exchanges and the opportunity to learn more about the culture of China.

Jon Tienhaara and Rick Pass, former administrators at Naselle, helped to start and promote the Mandarin Immersion program. Both administrators traveled to China to learn more about the culture and language. They returned with information regarding Chinese history, culture, people, and the immersion program.

The Mandarin program is in its fifth year at Naselle, educating 90 students with three Chinese teachers – Ji Pei (Claudia), Wang Min (Jasmine), and Zhu Shunmei (Scott). The immersion classes are offered in grades K-5. Each student spends 50% of their school day learning math, social studies and Chinese culture, which includes martial arts, calligraphy, music/singing, poetry, reading and painting. Immersion is content learning taught in the target language. This is a more effective way to learn a second language at an early age.

According to a recent parent survey, families choose this program for several reasons. The first reason is to be bilingual, the second is for the cognitive and academic benefits. The third reason is to give students a more global awareness. Parents also feel the program gives students a cultural connection and will help with future employment opportunities.

Community Culture Opportunities

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Chinese New Year is a popular event in the Naselle community, raising money for the Mandarin Immersion program. Photo courtesy: Liu Xing Naselle

Naselle students have an immense curiosity to learn. The parents and other interested community members have started an organization called Liu Xing, which means “Rising Star.” This program is dedicated to build and help sustain the Mandarin Immersion program at Naselle. Through the Liu Xing Naselle website, the organization keeps the community up to date with information, current fundraisers and events, and lets people know about the overall experience.  Lynley O’Donnell Manke, one of the parent volunteer coordinators, is a great resource for information and a wonderful advocate for promoting the Mandarin Immersion program. Amy Chadwick, another parent volunteer coordinator, helps to plan parent meetings and coordinates the annual event fundraiser.

The Liu Xing group also sponsors an annual Chinese New Year fundraiser event each year. This is a big event with cultural foods, auction items, classroom dance and music performances, and even performances by visiting Chinese groups. This event has raised over $10,000 each year, thanks to extensive community support and wonderful sponsorship.

The next step, says Lynley Manke, is to find a way to offer Chinese as a language through the middle and high school years.

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