When Steven Wu moved to Farmington several years ago, he was surprised to find the district did not have a Chinese language program. He made polite calls to then-superintendent Robert Villanova offering data on the importance of Chinese in the global economy and asking that a program be developed.
Years passed. He kept making phone calls. Villanova retired and Kathleen Greider moved into the superintendent role. And Greider, Wu said, seemed receptive to the idea but cautioned that it would take time to develop a complete program and that in a difficult economy, there would be no room for new positions.
But when Wu read that Greider had proposed adding the equivalent of nine new teaching positions and restoring the Latin program, Wu’s patience ran out.
“They talk about factoring in less practical things like French and restoring the Latin program, adding more teachers at the high school but at that time never mentioned anything about adding Chinese in our town,” Wu said at the Saturday morning Board of Education budget workshop. “Many parents and I talk about it and we feel we are being ignored by the town for many years.”
In the past few weeks, Wu made more phone calls, this time to fellow Noah Wallace parents and Chinese language supporters. He brought petitions to the Farmington Library’s Chinese New Year event. By the end of the week, there was an organized group and 256 names on the petition.
Several members presented their case before the Board of Education Saturday morning. Seven, mostly Farmington parents, spoke.
“Mandarin Chinese is the most commonly spoken language around the globe,” said Dan Witt, a psychologist for the New Britain Consolidated School District and a Farmington parent. “Anyone who’s picked up a newspaper can tell you that global connections between the U.S. and China have just exploded."
He pointed to numerous surrounding districts that offer Chinese, including Granby, East Hartland, West Hartford, Glastonbury and Windham.
Jen Lin shared her experience teaching Chinese in Glastonbury schools over the past seven years. Learning the language has also given her students an insight into Chinese culture, she said.
“The language itself is not phonetical but visual and that helps the kids to have another perspective of learning — that is why they find it so interesting,” Lin said.
She pointed out that while 300 million Chinese students are readying for the global market by learning English, few American students are learning Chinese.
Board Chairman Mary Grace Reed thanked the group for the articulate presentation and Greider said administrators had been looking into offering a virtual Chinese class. So far, a class has not been found that would meet Farmington High School graduation criteria.
Tight budget years have been a factor, Greider said. Farmington’s four-year language requirement also makes the situation more complicated, she said.
“It’s not that we are not in support of the expansion but we have a four-year language requirement so when we build a program, we must build it very carefully – with a pathway to proficiency at the high school level.”
Wu and other members of the group are determined to see change.
“We have been waiting long enough,” Wu said. “We need an answer and a solution now."