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Mandarin classes coming to local schools

EAGLE, Colorado – A local high school is launching a Mandarin language program funded by the Chinese government, school district officials said.

Battle Mountain High School joins 14 other Colorado schools – three high schools – as part of the Chinese government’s program to teach Mandarin and help introduce Chinese culture in U.S. high schools and colleges.

Around 100 Battle Mountain High School students are signed up for Mandarin classes, which are scheduled to begin when school starts in August. That’s enough for six classes that run all year, with 15-20 kids in each class, said Battle Mountain principal Phil Qualman.

The program is scheduled to last five years, Qualman said.

The Mandarin classes fall under the umbrella of the Chinese government’s Confucius Institutes, through its Office of Chinese Language Council International, located in Beijing.

There are currently more than 100 Confucius Institutes in colleges around the U.S., including one at The Community College of Denver, the college through which Battle Mountain is running its program, Qualman said.

The Confucius Institute has been bringing teachers into Denver high schools since about 2007. Qualman said he knew a principal in Denver who suggested he give it a try.

“We put the class on the schedule and students grabbed it,” Qualman said.

Along with Spanish, Battle Mountain and Eagle Valley high schools both offer French and German, but student numbers are sliding in those classes, Qualman and Eagle Valley principal Mark Strakbein.

Battle Mountain is launching its Mandarin program this year; Eagle Valley will likely starts theirs next year, Strakbein said. For now, another Eagle Valley teacher will help students navigate Rosetta Stone programs and Web-based seminars.

“We live in a global society and we’re giving students the opportunity for more than French and Spanish,” Strakbein said. “With smaller schools that are more remote, you’re seeing more of this sort of thing.”

Eagle Valley is anticipating as many as 60 students this fall, Strakbein said.

The Chinese sent Qualman six candidates who he interviewed by Skype. He hired Yulan Ou. She has experience as a college instructor in China, and has taught in some of China’s middle schools, Qualman said.

“She’s a trained teacher, a background in education fluent in English,” Qualman said. “She’ll stay as long as she’s doing a good job and she wants to stay. I would like for her to stay for multiple years.”

A standard teacher’s salary and benefits run just over $60,000, according to the school district.

The Chinese are picking up the majority of the tab: insurance, salary, a living stipend, Qualman said.

Battle Mountain’s share is $14,000 and a local donor, who wants to remain anonymous, paid that, Qualman said.

Battle Mountain has to provide full-time employment, professional coaching through its mentor program, and evaluations.

Eagle Valley’s program is funded by the school, Strakbein said.

The Confucius Institute program is not universally popular.

The Christian Science Monitor was critical, asking, “Let’s suppose that a cruel, tyrannical, and repressive foreign government offered to pay for American teens to study its national language in our schools. Would you take the deal?”

Firing back, a China Daily editorial accused Confucius Institute opponents of hypocrisy for not calling out Goethe Institutes, Alliances Francaises or Cerventes Institutes as “propaganda vehicles” or “tools of cultural invasion.”

Stan Rosen is director of the University of Southern California’s East Asian Studies Center calls it a long-term strategy.

“They steer away from those kinds of political issues, just to teach straight language. Because they know this is exactly what critics of China might be looking for,” he says.

Zhao Guocheng, the deputy director of the program, says they usually do not intervene in local classrooms, and that they adapt their teaching style to the local conditions.

The mission is to “engender better communication with the Chinese and promote enhanced understanding of their culture,” according to the Confucius Institute.

It’s important, they say, because an estimated 100 million non-Chinese people worldwide are already speaking Mandarin.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.


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