tampabay.com

Mandarin Chinese is the talk of this classroom's future

By ARLEEN SPENCELEY
Published June 13, 2007


Aiming to get students ready for a global future, Pasco school officials are looking at offering a new language - Mandarin Chinese.

Nothing keeps students from communicating internationally because, says Jeff Morgenstein, Pasco's Supervisor of Curriculum and Instructional Services for ESOL and World Languages, "the barriers aren't there. Technology has flattened them."

As technology makes the world smaller, it's more important than ever to bolster communication skills, even though some may view China as a rival on the global stage.

"One of the things I sometimes hear is 'Oh my goodness, Chinese; but they're an 'unfriendly' nation.' " Morgenstein said. "But my response is (this): by learning one another's languages, we have a better opportunity to sit down and resolve the differences of the past."

The Pasco school system already offers American Sign Language, Spanish, French and German. While Morgenstein hopes to add Mandarin Chinese as a class eventually, it is important to the district that anything new is "carefully infused into the educational system."

That includes Mandarin Chinese, so the program could be introduced this year as a club instead of a class.

"I don't want to be hasty with it, but my goal is that at some point near the beginning of the coming school year, we can begin to bring these experiences into the classroom, " Morgenstein said. "We want to make sure that what we offer to children is meaningful."

The school district plans to introduce students not only to the language, but also to the culture that speaks it.

"It's not just an academic exercise, (but) it's a practical one, " Morgenstein said. "People travel more through electronic means and communicate that way; we're trying to put our U.S. students into a position to see through the eyes of other people."

Chasco Elementary principal John Mann, who looks forward to the addition of Mandarin Chinese to schools in Pasco, said exposing students to a new language and culture now will be helpful for them later on.

"In the business world, you're going to have to work with your colleagues and your colleagues are going to be across the world, " he said. "Your board room is going to have to be an international place, (and) the more comfortable our students are with that, the better they will do in the future."

Right now, three people fluent in Mandarin Chinese have begun their teaching certification process. Morgenstein has looked into Mandarin Chinese curriculums and supplementary software programs. He's also gained a lot of support for the program.

"I believe that learning another language opens the door for understanding differences, and (for having) mutual respect for differences, " said Laurie Johnson, assistant principal of Pasco Middle School, who hopes to see Mandarin Chinese at her school soon.

Since January 2006, students there have involved themselves in a Global Learning Connection. As a participant, Pasco Middle became the sister school to Shuren International School in Nanjing, China. This year, about 25 students from Pasco and 25 students from Nanjing kept in touch online, via PowerPoint presentations and the group's student maintained Web site, www.pascoglobal.com.

The program has a partnership with Saint Leo University so the students can use the university's teleconferencing lab. Four times this school year, the students held video conferences to see and speak with students from the school in Nanjing. This coming year, eight video conferences are scheduled.

"The kicker is this, " Morgenstein said. "The Chinese students speak English."

Since the students from Nanjing speak English instead of Mandarin for the students from Pasco, Johnson would like see her students able to speak to the Nanjing students in Mandarin Chinese.

"We would love to reciprocate, to speak to them in Mandarin Chinese, " she said. "Bringing Mandarin Chinese to Pasco Middle School is an integral part of our Global Learning Connection."

Dave Estabrook, principal of the new Charles S. Rushe Middle School, also plans to provide tech-savvy students at his school with global connections.

"We have registered as an international school connection, " Estabrook said.

"Exposing this kind of diversity to our students is very important as far as preparing them for their futures."

For students in Pasco, Morgenstein already sees promising futures.

"When you look at the goals that our kids have, they know there's a world out there and they want to be engaged with it, " said Morgenstein. "There's a desire in them to communicate with others."