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Mandarin thriving in Minnesota

December 19, 2011

 

 

PHOTO BY BRYNA GODAR

Siblings Cassidy and Cormac Calcaterra in their uniforms at Yinghua Academy.

Chinese immersion schools growing in popularity

BY BRYNA GODAR

NORTHEAST PARK — At Yinghua Academy, children’s art lines the walls – thumbprint trees, traced hands, self-portraits. It looks like most elementary school hallways, but the kids have signed their artwork twice, once in English and once in Chinese characters.

Yinghua Academy, 1616 Buchanan St. NE, opened in 2006 as the first Chinese immersion charter public school in the Midwest. Students learn a curriculum ranging from history to math, all in Mandarin Chinese. Teachers instruct students completely in Chinese for kindergarten and first grade. In second grade one English class is added, and by sixth grade the curriculum is taught half in English and half in Chinese. Signs on classroom doors ask visitors to not speak English to the
teachers in front of students.

Many students don’t even know their teachers can speak English, said Karen Calcaterra, the grant administrator and a parent of two students at Yinghua. She and her husband believe in the value of bilingualism. They lived in China for a year on sabbatical while Craig Calcaterra, Karen’s husband, worked as a visiting math professor. Karen Calcaterra taught English to the freshmen. They enrolled their kids at Yinghua after returning to St. Paul, aiming to continue their Chinese education.

“It’s a pretty cool thing, I like it,” said her son Cormac Calcaterra, a fifth-grader at Yinghua. “It teaches you one of the most hardest languages to learn: Chinese.”

“For us, immersion provides multilingualism, proven cognitive benefits and flexibility, dynamic and engaging teaching methods, and opportunities for deep cultural connections and understandings,” Karen Calcaterra said.

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