Huayuan Academy brings China to Gaithersburg students

While many kids are spending their summer days at the water park or in their back yards, 40 will be immersed in Chinese language and culture at Gaithersburg Elementary School.

“It’s very essential for all students to become global citizens and be able to communicate with the world,” said Huayuan Chinese Academy President Helen Qin.

The Huayuan academy holds after-school Chinese immersion classes for the Washington region. Traditionally, most of the students are of Chinese heritage and take the classes to become more familiar with its language and culture. But this summer, Huayuan will focus on teaching basic Chinese to non-Chinese-heritage students in a free course at Gaithersburg Elementary. The three-week course runs July 8 through July 26 and has spots for 40 rising second- to fifth-graders.

Program organizers hope to fill 15 of the 40 spots with students from Gaithersburg elementary schools. Qin said close to 20 spaces already have been filled.

The curriculum is still in development but, Qin said, the course will consist of language classes in the mornings and cultural activities and experiments in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math in the afternoons. Lessons about Chinese tea culture, martial arts and folk dancing will make up the cultural activities. Students will end their day with a review of what they have learned.

Qin said teachers will help students enhance their understanding by drawing comparisons between American and Chinese cultures.

The course will challenge students to learn the language through immersion. Qin said teachers will use multimedia, pictures, video and body language to aid students’ learning.

In addition to the summer course, students can continue their studies in a 10-week extension course in the fall, when they will meet for one hour each week. The class will be held by the Huayuan Chinese Academy in Montgomery County schools.

“The 10-week extension course will focus on Chinese culture to keep interest going and to have the children become lifelong learners,” Qin said.

Gaithersburg Elementary School Principal Stephanie Brant said the school will form an after-school club for their students taking the summer course. The club will allow children to continue their learning but will be separate from the extension course.

“My hope is that students will be really excited and will continue to participate in the club,” Brant said. “I welcome anything that gives students an opportunity to explore another culture, another lifestyle.”

The school’s central location in Montgomery and the demographics of its student body made it a good setting for the summer course. Alan Cheung, who is coordinating the program at Gaithersburg Elementary, said the course will help introduce Chinese to students who would otherwise not be exposed to the language.

“The intention is for students with little or no language experience to get involved and interested in learning Chinese,” Cheung said.

This course is the fourth Chinese-language summer program to emerge in Maryland, and the first in Montgomery. It joins the other three — hosted by the New Life Christian School in Frederick, Howard Community College and Longfellow Elementary School in Columbia — as part of the National Foreign Language Center’s Startalk program at the University of Maryland.

Startalk seeks to improve learning of “critical need” languages in grades kindergarten through 12 and college-age students, and is a component of former President George W. Bush’s National Security Language Initiative, which was established in 2006.

Startalk sends out grant application invitations each September. Once all the applications are received, Startalk reviews and decides which ones will receive federal grants. When the programs are in place, Startalk performs on-site visits to ensure the program’s national practices are being performed correctly in the classrooms, said Startalk Program Director Betsy Hart.

Cheung’s Gaithersburg program is one of 24 that received grants this year.

Montgomery County public schools also have three Chinese immersion programs that run the duration of a school year at Potomac Elementary, College Garden Elementary and Herbert Hoover Middle schools.

Interested students can find information on Huayuan Chinese Academy’s Web site, www.hychinese.org.

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