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St. Paul. Minn. Mandarin immersion program off to a good start.

October 10, 2011

Chinese immersion program draws questions, then converts

By Mila Koumpilova
Updated: 10/09/2011 11:53:28 PM CDT

Stephen Lee, attorney and involved dad, gave folks at St. Paul Public Schools a thorough grilling about the district’s new Mandarin Chinese immersion program.

Over the phone, on email and face-to-face, he peppered them with questions: Will the kindergarten program be a short-lived experiment? Will the grant money behind it keep flowing? Will his son lag behind his peers in his grasp of English?

“I am wary about being a first adopter of anything,” said Lee, who lives in Little Canada.

When the district launched the program at Benjamin E. Mays International Magnet School this fall, Lee’s and 16 other families took a chance on it – considerably fewer than the 50 the district was shooting for. Many districts, intrigued by the popularity of Minnesota’s half-dozen such programs, are nevertheless sheepish about becoming early adopters as well. There’s the hard work of launching the programs and, more recently, the prospect of federal funding drying up.

But Lee and other parents who enrolled despite their qualms say the St. Paul program is off to a strong start. And school officials in turn vow to grow it into a flagship program for the district.

Stacey Paske’s daughter recently whispered a secret about her kindergarten teacher, Zhou HongJuan, who is a native of south China.

“She knows how to speak English,” the girl said. “I heard her speak to the librarian.”

Read more here.

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