NEW ROCHELLE, NY — Chinese dumplings, dim sum and even acrobats were part of a recent cultural experience enjoyed by students of Webster Elementary School’s Kaleidoscope program as part of their Mandarin language class.
The 46 fourth and fifth-graders who learn Mandarin with Huanyue “Michelle” Wang, are in a two-year program featuring a rigorous and rich curriculum where they receive 40 minutes of instruction every other day. By the time fifth-grade is complete, they have a solid language footing.
“The students are working hard learning this new language,” Wang said. “Compared to English, Mandarin is a very different language. In the beginning of fourth-grade, it is a challenge to learn a new symbol system. Students find it more enjoyable once they begin to understand the language.”
Of the district’s seven elementary schools, five – Davis, Ward, Webster, Barnard and Jefferson – offer foreign language classes, while two have none. Currently, the programs are very site-based and not formally structured by the district. A committee is looking into the disparity in foreign language offerings in the schools and will offer options to the Board of Education for a districtwide world language program.
At Webster, it’s not just lessons in Chinese symbol reading, writing and pronunciation that are important. The cultural context of the language is just as critical.
The recent Chinese New Year offered an opportunity to reinforce just that. Every year, the Kaleidoscope program celebrates the Chinese New Year by making traditional foods and introducing students to unique arts, such as calligraphy.
This year, Wang’s mother, Min Liu, who was visiting from China, came to Webster to show students how to make pork and chicken dumplings. Students also went on a field trip to Queens College to watch a performance by acrobats from Shanghai, China, followed by a special dim sum lunch at a nearby restaurant.
Nearly 1.2 billion people, or 16 percent of the world’s population, speak some form of Chinese as their first language. Mandarin is China’s official language.