Publicado en Orlando entinel, 4-17-2005
By Lauren Roth
SANFORD — The fifth-graders in Mei-En Marler’s classes at Bentley Elementary can politely tell you what they ate for lunch, ask directions and introduce themselves — all in Mandarin Chinese.
Her students are on the leading edge of a Seminole County push to teach foreign languages at the elementary-school level. In the fall, the district plans to offer either Spanish, French, German or Chinese to students at each of its 38 elementary schools. Parents at each school will be offered the option to enroll their children in the program.
That will make Seminole the first school district in Central Florida and only the second in the state, after Miami-Dade County schools, to offer foreign languages to all elementary students. Orange County, which has 114 elementary schools, offers foreign-language magnet programs at four of them. Lake schools do not offer foreign languages at the elementary level.
“This is a dream come true,” said Minnie Cardona, who is overseeing the rollout of the new language programs in Seminole schools. The district’s experience has been that students who take a world language do better on assessments in English as well. “It’s one of the 21st-century skills,” she said.
The fifth-graders at Bentley have had access to Chinese since they were in kindergarten, thanks to a grant that has since expired. The district chose Chinese because it’s a major world language, Cardona said. At each school, parents can choose to sign up their children for the classes. Demand has been high.
Students at the Sanford school typically get two or three 40-minute language classes a week. English Estates Elementary has had Chinese classes for five years, and Heathrow and Carillon elementaries have had Chinese enrichment classes once a week for about four years, Cardona said. Those two schools will get an additional day next year.
Last year, the district added Spanish at Bear Lake and Eastbrook. An additional six schools have classes where students learn for half of the day in English and half of the day in Spanish.
When elementary students learn Chinese, they mainly work on speaking, listening and reading skills, said Paula Chen, who teaches the Chinese classes at English Estates and Heathrow. The students learn to write basic Chinese characters and numbers, and practice real-life scenarios such as ordering food from a restaurant, she said.
Students also play traditional Chinese games, sing songs, make crafts and prepare foods.
On a recent day, Bentley students sang “It’s a Small World” in Chinese and worked in pairs to describe the color of the clothes worn by a paper doll. Marler gently corrected pronunciation.
“It’s all exciting to learn,” said Arushi Chopde, 11, who has been learning Chinese at Bentley since kindergarten. She hopes to continue studying the language.
Cardona said that Seminole schools are working on ensuring that students who begin learning a language will be able to continue their studies in middle and high school. French and German will be offered at particular elementary schools next year because of the language offerings at the high schools they feed into, she said.
The district offers an online exploratory Chinese course at South Seminole Middle School but does not currently have it in a high school. That could change in the fall.
Madhu Chopde, Arushi’s mother, said the class adds an entirely new element to her daughter’s education.
“In addition to learning about science and math, she gets exposed to another world culture. That’s what I love about it,” Chopde said.
Marler, who like Chen is of Taiwanese heritage, has a similar goal for her students.
“I hope that one day when they travel to China they have the ability to communicate, understand the culture and find it easy to adapt to the environment,” she said.
And Bentley Elementary Principal Martha Garcia said the classes are a real selling point for her school.
“When parents hear it, they’re really excited,” she said. “How many schools can say they offer Chinese?”
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