BCPS educators and others visited the Temple of Confucius, the first teacher.
Last year, as Baltimore County Public Schools alumnus Michael Phelps was making a big splash in China at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the Chinese culture and language were making a big splash with Baltimore County’s world languages students.
That trend will expand in August 2009 as BCPS extends Mandarin Chinese language instruction to four more high schools. This school year, nearly 600 children in 11 BCPS middle and high schools will be learning to speak, read, and write Chinese.
From one in 2006 to 11 in 2009
According to Peggy Johnson, director of the BCPS Office of World Languages, this year, Chinese instruction will be offered for the first time at Randallstown, Towson, and Eastern Technical high schools, as well as Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts. Students at Dulaney, Hereford, and Perry Hall high schools and Windsor Mill, Hereford, Perry Hall, and Ridgely middle schools already have the opportunity to learn this vibrant language rich in tradition and growing in importance in global trade and culture.
In 2006, Dulaney High School became the first BCPS school to offer Mandarin Chinese for students, making BCPS the seventh school district in the state to offer Chinese language instruction. That first year, 18 Dulaney students signed up.
Growing demand – teaching students who want to learn
Mandarin Chinese, with 1.2 billion speakers, is the most-spoken language in the world, followed by English with 480 million speakers and Spanish with 320 million speakers.
“The business and economic aspects (of learning Chinese) are really important in today’s multicultural world,” Johnson says. “People are really starting to pay more attention to what language they take, and Chinese is proving to be very popular.”
“As BCPS Superintendent Dr. Joe A. Hairston points out, ‘The world is getting smaller,’ and we need for our students to be able to compete on a global basis. I think more people are realizing that,” Johnson says.
She explains that schools are chosen for the program to establish a feeder pattern from middle to high schools and based on interest and demand at the schools. At Randallstown, for instance, a Level I Chinese course was offered after more than 90 students signed up for the courses. And at Towson, plans to offer one class in Chinese language instruction grew to two when planners saw the interest the classes created.
According to Weimin Hu, an education professor from China who teaches the language at Dulaney High School through a contract with Towson University, BCPS students have generally done well learning a difficult language that, in addition to linguistic ability, incorporates aspects of the nation’s culture and picture-like characters. She has her students practice Chinese brush writing to help them better appreciate the beauty of the language.
As student demand and proficiency increases, the Office of World Languages is prepared to respond. A Level III Chinese course has been piloted at Dulaney High School, and plans are under development for AP courses in the language.
BCPS representatives visited a high school in China. The group included: Margaret Johnson, coordinator, Office of World Languages; Susan Evans, principal, Ridgely Middle; Thomas Evans, principal, Eastern Technical High; George Roberts, principal, Perry Hall High; Jane Barranger, principal, Towson High; Cheryl Pasteur, principal, Randallstown High; Edmund Mitzel, principal, Pikesville High; and Latonya Wallace, Assistant Principal, Owings Mills High. Others with them included BCPS and Chinese students and teachers.
Changing places – the power of exchange programs
Within BCPS, schools such as Dulaney High School and the First Railway Middle School in Xi’an, China, have established annual exchange programs. In addition, administrators and teachers from across the system have participated in partnership programs with Chinese educators that have enabled them to learn about Chinese educational practices as well as demonstrate the successful teaching going on in Baltimore County’s schools.
Baltimore County Public Schools and Towson University have worked together to offer student and teacher exchange programs, and the university has provided the system with additional Chinese language instructors.
For 28 days, beginning in late June and July, several BCPS teachers again participated in an exchange program sponsored by the Fulbright-Hays Study Abroad Program coordinated by Virginia Tech University; the China exchange program in Baltimore County was designed in part by BCPS Southeast Area Assistant Superintendent Lyle Patzkowsky and Dulaney High School educator Kelly Smith.
And another Virginia Tech program called Educational Leadership this summer sent the principals of those schools receiving Chinese language instruction to spend two weeks in China, learning more about its history, culture, and educational system.
One of those principals, Jane Barranger of Towson High School says, “China is a fascinating country that will continue to play a major role in our global economy. I know that many students are not only excited about learning Chinese but also realize the importance of doing so. Once again Baltimore County Public Schools, under Dr. Hairston's leadership, is on the cutting edge in providing students with relevant courses.”
Becoming world citizens
But Johnson notes that, for many students, often the most meaningful aspect of Chinese language instruction in Baltimore County comes down to the human element and to communications. “The really neat thing,” she says, “is that when the Chinese students visit, you can see the interaction between them and their host students and their families on a personal level. You can see the one-to-one exchange of information and ideas.
“Yes, our students are learning; they are learning how to speak better Chinese and learning the culture. But with the personal exchanges, they are also learning how to appreciate and accept cultural differences. They are learning how to become world citizens.”
Randallstown High School principal Cheryl Pasteur, another of the principals who traveled to China this summer, concurs. “Since my return, I have been in steady contact with two Chinese students I met there, Fannie and Emma. The trip and the classes we will teach at Randallstown High School are more than occurrences; they are opportunities to bridge cultural and human gulfs. The two girls who are writing to me demonstrate the eagerness to close that gulf!”