The Washington Post

Md. classes blend Chinese and STEM to give students global perspectives

Local students have been thinking globally in Maryland this summer.

Starting next week, students in Montgomery County will be the next group of Maryland children learning Chinese while getting lessons in science, technology, engineering and math.

The free program is part of the larger mission of the STARTALK program, designed to teach American students foreign languages to better connect to the global economy.

For two weeks, students will engage in cultural activities, such as calligraphy and martial arts, while also learning about the physics and properties of water. All the while, they get Chinese language lessons.

Peter Johnson, 11, has been a student in the STARTALK classes in Frederick County and said the program has been a “great opportunity to learn another language.”

“The Chinese middle class is increasing, so maybe I’ll be able to get a better job and interact with Chinese people,” said Johnson about why he wanted to take the classes. “It’s good to learn about China because it is a really awesome place.”

The program in Frederick is in its sixth year and wrapped up July 3. Students in Frederick made origami, learned Tai Chi and got a lesson on the Great Wall of China. They also learned about the the science behind various modes of transportation — boats, cars and planes.

“The purpose is really to provide an opportunity for our students to be exposed to world languages,” said Elizabeth Chung,, director of the STARTALK Center for STEM-Integrated Chinese Studies. “It is about becoming a global citizen and understanding the importance of [economic] competitiveness.”

The program has made extra efforts to ensure that students from low-income families participate in the program, Chung said. Chung and her staff in Frederick helped the team in Montgomery County establish the STARTALK program that starts at Gaithersburg Elementary School on Monday.

STARTALK is a program developed in 2006 under the National Security Language Initiative. Programs are designed to teach students critical languages such as Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Urdu and Farsi. There are more than 100 STARTALK programs nationally, with about a dozen of them in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

Nolan Jones, 10, said “I am very pleased to meet you” was his favorite phrase to learn in Chinese as a student in the STARTALK classes in Frederick. Jones said he also liked the STEM-related projects that allowed him to build kites, airplanes and boats. He also learned how to describe his projects in Chinese.

“I like this program because it helps me learn about language,” Nolan said. “My dad said it would be great if I could be a translator for the president.”

Lynh Bui is a Prince George's County public safety reporter and former Montgomery County education reporter.



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