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How a Public Chinese Immersion School Is Desegregating St. Louis

September 10, 2014

How a Public Chinese Immersion School Is Desegregating St. Louis

The Chinese School brings together students from the suburbs and the inner city in one of America’s most racially divided cities.

Lydia Chen, principal of the Chinese School, leads an assembly during the first day of the 2014-15 school year.(Reena Flores/National Journal)

September 9, 2014 National Journal recently visited St. Louis and Ferguson to see how Rust Belt cities are changing after losing more than half their populations. In the coming weeks, Next America will publish a series of stories about the people shaping the St. Louis region’s future.

St. Louis—”Zăo shàng hăo,” says principal Lydia Chen in Mandarin Chinese to about 160 children sitting in neat rows on the playground. “Good morning.”

“Zăo shàng hăo,” reply the first- and second-graders, wearing navy ties and sweater vests, and fidgeting in line next their teachers, who are mostly from Beijing and Taiwan.

It’s the first day of the year at the Chinese School, a St. Louis public charter school that teaches kindergarten through second grade entirely in Mandarin Chinese. Most of the students at this inner-city school come from low-income families. More than half of them are African-American.

The school is one of a handful of charter schools trying to reverse decades of racial segregation in the St. Louis public-school system. And enrollment is growing. This is the Chinese School’s third year open and it just moved into a building of its own, a converted brick hospital just a mile from the Anheuser Busch brewery in downtown St. Louis.

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