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Parents Push to Add Chinese to Curriculum

Group of Farmington residents gathers support in asking the school district to bring Mandarin to the classroom.

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."

Sarah Perillo February 13, 2012 at 03:52 PM
The New York Times published a good editorial about this very subject about a year ago. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/30/opinion/30kristof.html
jeff cohan February 13, 2012 at 04:00 PM
As Mr Urban indicates there are other avenues for impatient parents to pursue the Mandarin language. Public and town education systems are not and should not be the panacea of all wants and desires. While the Chinese language is a noble undertaking personally I would prefer that funds first be restored to fundamental education needs such as the thre R's and maybe a stronger dedication to the sciences. In addition the raising of the level of articulation of our own language might be a first priority for high school students.
Kay Higgins February 13, 2012 at 04:31 PM
I may be wrong, but I think most parents and community members understand that program turn-around is not, and never will be immediate. Mr. Wu, however, seems to have been requesting this addition for some years, now. Given the current global demografics, it would benefit many students to have some level of fluency in Mandarin Chinese, the most commonly spoken language in the world. The number of native speakers of Mandarin is astounding, and will not soon diminish. The time to begin to formulate a Mandarin program may have been a few years ago, but let's not let this opportunity pass us by completely.
Jack R. February 13, 2012 at 04:42 PM
I see a lot of comments about the proper protocol as to the reason it can't be done. Mr. Wu is following the correct protocols. His reasons are logical and well presented. Our work environments are changing. Mandarin is much more practical than Latin or French. Education is often a slow moving machine. Lets take this opportunity to make changes that will have a meaningful impact on career readiness instead of doing things because that is the way they have always been done. We can start building the program by offering 1st year Mandarin at the expense of the French. Latin should not be offered. Offering a language just to improve SAT scores is a poor reason to justify its existence. Good luck Steve.
arleen kline February 13, 2012 at 04:45 PM
I think your comment is inappropriate. There are ways to disagree with something without calling it freakin anything. I'm not for or against this proposal. But keep in mind that other schools do offer it so it is not as far-fetched as you seem to think, so please have respect for those who are making the request. Mr Wu most likely made his proposal in earnest and should be treated with respect.
Kaitlin Glanzer (Editor) February 13, 2012 at 04:47 PM
LK and Jack, please identify yourself by your full name. Arleen, I second your sentiments.
Kaitlin Glanzer (Editor) February 13, 2012 at 04:57 PM
Ron, Steven Wu was saying that town council members told him the financial situation of the town will be improving this year and he took last year's budget approval as a show of support for education in Farmington. Thus, he said, he felt this was a good environment to push his proposal.
Jack R. February 13, 2012 at 05:04 PM
It's not a question of adding new programs. If Latin is restored, the debate centers on whether it should be replaced with Mandarin. Kaitlin...did I miss something on full names? When was that policy changed? There was a fairly lengthy debate with readers split on the need to require them. Arguments against were very reasonable.
Cheryl Marino February 13, 2012 at 05:14 PM
If Farmington is ready to add Mandarin to it's language options the school system might look at eliminating French to replace it with Mandarin. This could be done with little or no effect on the budget. The transition may be a challenge since if will effect the other Farmington schools but a phase in of Mandarin and phase out of French can be planned.
Kaitlin Glanzer (Editor) February 13, 2012 at 05:22 PM
Jack, the Chinese language group is not proposing instead of, rather in addition to. It has always been my intention to require full names in the comments on Farmington stories. Some articles are cross-posted with other Farmington Valley Patches, which have a different commenting policy. Whether there are good arguments in favor of anonymity or not, many readers have asked me to require full names, much research suggests the policy improves the quality of comments and it is the policy of this site.
Jack R. February 13, 2012 at 05:33 PM
Thanks for clarifying that Kaitlin. I would not be in favor of an additional language, but would support replacing an existing language, like French or Latin. Re names: I disagree but it is your call to make. Sadly this may be my last entry, but I'll keep posting until you terminate my account.
Ron White February 13, 2012 at 07:05 PM
Katlin Perhaps I’m to cynical We can’t keep adding and subtracting programs from the school based on the whims of the current town council The students of this town deserve a high level consistent curriculum with a goal to continuous improvement, not the knee jerk policies of the past few years. Thanks
Kaitlin Glanzer (Editor) February 13, 2012 at 07:19 PM
Ron, I think the Board of Education would say that they haven't been adding and subtracting programs, rather they were forced to cut programs due to difficult budget years and this year's zero increase teacher contract gives them an opportunity to restore some critical programs losses. The Board of Ed, like the Town Council on capital projects, talks about trying to catch up in areas that have been underfunded for the past few years, like technology, reading and math specialists and professional development. Of course, Board of Ed members are free to speak for themselves. ; )
Steven Y. Wu February 13, 2012 at 08:15 PM
(Part 1) Mrs. Jet. Thanks for your comments but I have to disagree. Process? What I have seen is five years (when I first to bring up the concern) has been passed but no progress has been made. Did we really do any study recent years on this? How many five years can our children can to miss during their learning ages? After five years, fourth graders will be 10th grade high school students and planning to enter college… Personally, if five years is not enough for our school’s process, I don’t think the process is working on this initiative. Help us understood here. In addition, let me bring some facts here: 1) before last week, our administration office didn't mention a word about any plan of considering adding Chinese in our World Language program. For our Farmington World Language program portion, all we heard are to back-fill other world language programs. 2) We need a solution to address the funding issue as other towns. If many other towns can do it, why not us? Something is definitely missing here. 3) If we look at the financial situation at our town right now, many signs and facts are already signaling our town’s education financial outlook is getting better for the coming years compared with the past : a) house property tax hike was approved last summer. b. teacher union wage freeze agreement. c. State investment on Jackson lab at UCONN health center – bring more business tax and residential house tax income to our town; (continued)
Steven Y. Wu February 13, 2012 at 08:18 PM
(Part 2) d. In addition, other funding channel is also available to help us to establish the Chinese program, such as Hanban from China or NSA Grant. The Hanban grant application process is a well-established process and is well documented on College Board web site. Just like our neighbor Simsbury school, in the past several years, hundreds of other US public schools had successfully obtained the Hanban grant to establish or expand their Chinese program. Why can’t we learn from our neighbors? http://themandarincenter.org/schools/simsbury-public-schools https://professionals.collegeboard.com/k-12/awards/chinese/confucius The 21st century’s world economy can’t run without China’s involvement. It would be a big mistake to think our school’s World language curriculums should be structured the same way as it is now or trying to get back what it was 20 years ago, even think it is ok to not consider adding the far more practical and the long missing Chinese program in it. How do you prepare your children to be a global citizen in the future job market as written in our school’s well documented mission statement? What I am seeing is that other town children do but not us. (continued)
Steven Y. Wu February 13, 2012 at 08:18 PM
(Part 3) The world is changing and the clock is ticking. All above facts tell us the opportunity is presented itself to us for the next two years. Farmington school administration office just needs to seize the moment and put a good execution plan together. We can learn from Simsbury, Glastonbury and West Hartford neighbors and see how they get it done. Now, the question is more whether we have a will to do it, rather than the “tight budget” or the “process” excuse we used for many years. I had asked our editor to share our official proposal to our residents in this platform and hope we can see it available soon. Our proposal is not a overnight’s imagination out of our group of parents’, it was from the research we have done - we had talked to our town’s officials, state educators and the World Language professionals out of state. Hope some parents can find the data helpful. Sorry if I offended anyone’s feeling here. I just tried to state the facts.
arleen kline February 13, 2012 at 11:06 PM
Thanks Kaitlin.
Susan Copley February 13, 2012 at 11:18 PM
Very well said, Mr. Cohan. It is a PUBLIC school that needs to educate to the masses. If a parent has a specific area they want their child to explore, they should fund it themselves as an extracurricular activity. (By the way, I feel the same way about SPORTS but don't get me started on that!)
jaydee February 14, 2012 at 12:35 AM
I support Mr. Wu's proposal to offer Mandarin Chinese in Farmington Public Schools (FPS). Learning Chinese has several benefits foremost it is the most common language of the world followed by English then Spanish. We live in a global economy and those Mandarin speaking countries are among the fastest growing in population and economic productivity. Failure to teach Chinese puts FPS behind the curve. Other schools around the country are teaching Chinese see article NYT http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/21/education/21chinese.html Further, learning Chinese like learning music, improves cognitive development. Judi DeVoe
Ann C. Jett February 14, 2012 at 01:14 AM
Thank you Kaitlin. Neither the BOE or Town Council add and/or subtract any programs based on whims. They have been forced to cut course offerings or ask parents to fund programs, such as pay to play for sports, Mrs. Greider and the BOE membership are engaging in dialogues in an effort to reinstate programs which were underfunded in the past. While Mr. Wu makes an excellent proposal, I would remind people that although Latin is a "Romance" language, the root of most words in the English language are derived from Latin. Just saying. I do support the consideration of having Chinese as part of the foreign language curriculum, once all core curriculum subjects are fully staffed and on par with forthcoming state mandates. I think Mr. Wu has done an impressive job with his proposal. I would say that there is no need to villify Mrs. Greider nor the BOE as they consider reinstating courses which were previously eliminated due to budget cuts. They are also programs which play a valuable role in a well-rounded education and preparation of our children to compete in a global society.
Steven Y. Wu February 14, 2012 at 04:32 AM
Thank you Jack and many people here. Glad to hear many parents share the same vision of ours.
joseph Tranchida February 14, 2012 at 02:42 PM
all languages are international. Lets concentrate on teaching the 3 R's and how to treat each other with respect regardless of our native language.
Jack R. February 14, 2012 at 09:57 PM
That was an excellent letter to the editor Steve. Very well written with supporting data. I'm not sure how the BOE can ignore the data you've presented. That graph you included showing the change in world languages offered in public schools is very compelling. I hope the BOE acts on it and seeks parent input on whether French and Latin should be superseded by Mandarin. Let us know what we can do as parents to move this initiative along. Great job.
Stephanie Duchesneau February 14, 2012 at 11:53 PM
I live in Farmington, am a former teacher of French and Spanish at FHS for 20 years and as World Language Supervisor in Simsbury, serve as an advocate for language instruction with the goal of proficiency. The acquisition of language for communication takes many years. In Simsbury, we offer Spanish, French, Latin and Chinese. The Chinese language has a high population of speakers but I am not convinced it is the most spoken language outside of China. Spanish and French are spoken in almost every continent. To say that French is passe is categorically incorrect. The business opportunities for all three languages are very compelling. Latin is relevant and useful for many professions and a strong base for vocabulary and language structure. The argument should not be which language is most important. Our country is light years behind Europe and China with regard to language instruction. We still seem to think that it is fine to teach language to get a high school requirement completed ( 2 years at FHS not 4) rather than actually use it in the real world. We can talk all we want about the "global" economy but it means nothing if we do not begin language instruction for a purpose other than credits. Europeans learn 2 languages other than their own and Chinese students begin English in elementary school. Learning another language gives us insight to a people and how they think. This is how we will compete in a global world.
Steven Y. Wu February 15, 2012 at 03:53 AM
Jack - Thank you for your encouragement. We are still in waiting mode. Hopefully to hear from BOE soon. If not, more work to do ... Here is another article from Courant today: http://www.courant.com/community/farmington/hc-farmington-chinese-language-20120214,0,2780124.story
Ann C. Jett February 15, 2012 at 01:04 PM
Mrs. Deschaneau, thank you for adding real life perspective to the debate. The input of educators such as yourself is invaluable.
Gene Singleton February 16, 2012 at 03:11 AM
Well, there is public education AND private education. You don't have to wait for public education to kick in. You can just pay enough to go to a boarding school to learn Mandarin Chinese. You just cannot wait and wasting time waiting for public schools to take over. There are many other ways for kids to learn Mandarin Chinese. Take for example, my son in senior high are doing well in learning Mandarin Chinese. Together with his teammates, they have won several Chinese speech competitions since last summer. The reason is they have learned a lot from watching Mandarin Chinese dubbed movies. Their coach suggested learning from Chinese dubbed "The Pursuit of Happyness", an American movie (Will Smith) dubbed in Mandarin Chinese. Such movies have great vocabularies for real use. Movies such as "The Day After Tomorrow", "Toy Story", "Chronicle of Narnia", are just a few examples of Mandarin Chinese dubbed movies from http://www.ChineseDubbed.com, and a few other stores. Be creative, and don't sit idle waiting for public school. You can start now and be ahead in this thing.
Rudy List February 16, 2012 at 05:08 PM
A couple years of high school Chinese will probably be worthless from the point of view of enhancing competitiveness in the global market place, especially given the expectations of the US education system. To learn Chinese one must learn two entirely separate things: 1) speaking and 2) reading/writing. Learning to speak Chinese is about the same as learning to speak any other language, easier, in fact than many (in my opinion). Because Chinese has no alphabet, learning to read and write, on the other hand, is extremely time-consuming, requiring an enormous amount of repetitive memory work. The ideographs are organized into categories, but mastering that organizational system is much more difficult than mastering an alphabet. Ideally Chinese should be taught in elementary school, when kids don't object to large amounts of repetitive rote memory. And it should be taught every day. To think the US education system will go any distance toward getting high school kids proficient is probably delusional. A program teaching Chinese 2 hours a day would make progress, but that's not going to happen. It’s true that China is advancing as an economic power. It’s also true that the Chinese are learning English. That they have to speak English won't stop them from doing business with the US. They are concerned with technology. If the best comes US, they will deal with the US. If it comes from Germany, they will deal with Germans, using English.
Jack R. February 16, 2012 at 09:16 PM
Wouldn't that be true of any language Rudy? No one should expect students to be proficient in any language solely based on taking high school world language. A real life exposure to the language is required. Gene's points are well made. If you want a student to learn Spanish, you have the student watch television in Spanish and converse with other Spanish speakers. Immersion is the best teaching tool for learning a new language. High school world languages courses do, however, provide the basics for proper grammar, reading and writing skills along with tone and annunciation. Exposure to cultures is another important element. The courses also spark interest to continue studying the language and to become proficient.
Tseng Jr-Shi April 19, 2012 at 02:59 PM
After reading all comments above, I can understand Mr. Wu's worry about learning Chinese. I am living in Taiwan. As a native speaker, I don't have to spend much efforts to ask my boys to learn Chinese. However, my business is helping younger students to learn more about the wisdom of Chinese classics through a digital storytelling website.(www.5qchannel.com) The website has become supporting materials of Chinese class in many countries. I have been travel to several countries in the past few years. Yes. Many people have same worry like Mr. Wu. Chinese is difinitely an important world language for sure. I'd like to invite you to visit our website. If you feel our website is helpful to your children and they like it, I am happy to offer them a chance to read all contents on our website. I can guarantee they will have big improve on Chinese before you have Chinese program. God helps those who help themselves.

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