By Jason A. Smith
HAMPTON — Dutchtown Elementary School recently received a $15,000 grant from the Georgia Department of Education to teach kids about Chinese culture.
“This is huge, huge, huge,” Dutchtown Elementary Principal Dr. Winnie Johnson. “Mandarin is such a challenging language as opposed to the romance languages. It is the most critical world language.”
As part of the program, students will spend more than half their school day learning the state’s Common Core Georgia Performance Standards curriculum in Mandarin Chinese. Dual immersion focuses on helping students excel in language skills for their native and target languages. State education officials said such programs improve performance on standardized tests, enhance their cognitive skills and increase their cultural sensitivity.
Johnson said the genesis of applying for the grant came seven years ago, when she was part of a delegation that traveled to China to learn about its culture. She said the school initially made efforts to teach students Chinese at that time.
“Teachers were just doing a word of the week and that kind of thing,” said Johnson. “We kind of kept that going as long as we could, but it got to where the enthusiasm waned, and I didn’t push it.”
Johnson said that last year, the school marked the Chinese New Year with a celebration that included business professionals from China.
“That is when I started getting more involved with the Chinese business community,” she said. “In September, I was invited to an information session at the Georgia Department of Education. They were offering dual-immersion programs. Several schools were vying for one of four grants to offset the cost of the program.”
Johnson said Henry County is the only public-school system district in Georgia that will be offering a Chinese immersion program.
The Georgia Dual Immersion Grant includes $5,000 for professional development and $10,000 to offset the cost of textbooks and materials.
In 2012, State Superintendent Dr. John Barge announced plans to have 20 dual-immersion programs in Georgia the year 2020. Programs are designed to help students develop advanced-level speaking, listening, reading and writing skills in world languages.