New Chinese program will teach kids language skills

An after school Chinese program at Long River Middle School starts Jan 24.

Ni hao! Starting Jan. 24, Long River Middle School students will learn Mandarin Chinese in a voluntary after school program.

The pilot program’s three classes are all full, with 17 students per class, said James Agostine, Region 16 superintendent.

Student will meet one hour a week with Daisy Chen Laone, a resident of Prospect, will be teaching the course.

“I’m really looking forward to it. I’m very excited about it,” Laone said.

Laone said she e-mailed the high school principal about teaching a class after reading about new requirements from the state to teach more foreign languages in school.

After speaking with Agostine, Laone found out the school had been looking for a Mandarin teacher.

“We saw an opportunity and the Board [of Education] gave us the okay to go forward with it,” Agostine said.

Laone is from Taiwan, but has lived in the states for seven years and has been teaching at a weekend school in Greenwich, where she is principal. Laone designs classes, writes curricula, and trains teachers at that school. She says she plans to get her teaching certification this summer so she can teach in public schools.

The new class will be an introductory course and teach Chinese culture as well as basic language skills.

With Chinese New Year coming up Feb. 1, Laone plans to celebrate with her students by doing some calligraphy.

She thought students will be interested in China’s 5,000 years of rich history and culture.

“Learning the language will give them an insight into the history and the culture,” Laone said.

Learning foreign languages helps develop children’s brains and makes them better thinkers in other areas as well, according to Laone.

Studies have found while people mainly use the left side of their brain for speaking most languages, CAT scans show both sides of the brain active when people speak Mandarin, according to Laone.

“When you speak the language, you’re using more of your brain to speak or listen to the language,” she said.

Bilingual students do better on SAT tests than non-bilingual students, she said.

Learning Chinese will help students in their future workplace and when applying for college, Laone said.

“Mandarin is more difficult to learn. It takes a lot of dedication,” she said.

Laone plans to send a welcome letter to the parents after the first class with her contact information so they have a channel to communicate.

“Any feedback is welcome,” she said.

The district used money from the Federal Education Jobs Grant to pay for the program.

Administrators plan to monitor and evaluate the program to look at Chinese as an optional language for kids down the road, Agostine said.

The district will use this program to see how viable it could be as part of the curriculum and provide some enrichment for our kids, Agostine said.

“I think with the globalization that’s going on and China emerging as such an important leader, it seemed logical that we should be considering that,” Agostine said.

Last year, the high school hosted a group from a sister school in China.

Although the group was only at the school for one day, the visit provided a basis for an interchange of ideas and breakdown of language as a cultural barrier, Agostine said.