Elementary Chinese to be Replaced with Spanish

Spanish instruction will replace Mandarin Chinese instruction next school year


David Vahey

Chinese instruction takes place at the high school each day in room 311.

Eight years after establishing Mandarin Chinese instruction for first through fifth graders, the district will switch to Spanish instruction from first to fourth grade, with fifth grade instruction yet to be determined. In a Jan. 31 email announcement, Dr. David Glasner, superintendent, and Dr. Marla Robinson, chief academic officer, stated that Spanish instruction will begin in elementary schools at the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year.

The reasons Glasner and Robinson cited for the change echo criticisms of the program that The Shakerite documented in March 2012 in its inaugural Investigations effort. The related stories were reported primarily by the Journalism II students Shane McKeon (’14), Marcia Brown (’15) and Taylor Butze (’15). The investigation was prompted by a Woodbury student, who wrote a letter critical of the district’s approach, gathered 80 signatures from peers and sent it to Dr. Randy Yates, former Woodbury principal, now retired. The Shakerite also published the letter. 

Below, the 2012 coverage has been compiled to make the package more accessible to readers.

Lauren Sheperd, Web Managing Editor

Financing the Chinese Program

Shane McKeon, Staff Reporter | March 20, 2012

Shaker’s Chinese program was born out of necessity and opportunity. The district needed to fulfill a world language requirement for the International Baccalaureate program, and the Chinese government offered a solution.

Through an exchange program, the Hanban (Confucius Institute Headquarters) worked with the Chinese Ministry of Education to send Chinese teachers to Shaker Heights, providing an economical opportunity to fulfill IB world language requirements.

Hanban paid the teachers’ salaries in full, while Shaker paid for fringe benefits such as transportation and housing. This provided Shaker with cheap and native Chinese teachers. “We couldn’t have done the IB program without them,” said Assistant Superintendent Bernice Stokes. “Hanban covered the cost.”

As the Chinese language program continues, the payment plans change. According to district treasurer Bryan Christman, the Hanban Chinese teachers receive a new teacher’s salary of $43,000. “Hanban pays $13,000; we pay $30,000,” Christman said. Next year, Shaker will pick up the remaining $13,000 on the tab, making the teachers fully district-paid. The teachers will be responsible for their own housing and transportation.

Despite Woodbury students’ criticisms, Stokes sees the Chinese classes as a curricular improvement. She explained that social studies is a part of the Chinese curriculum. “Teaching the Chinese culture is a big part of the language. The social piece is very important.”

High school students taking Chinese seem to feel positive about the language, despite what their younger counterparts say. “Chinese is a great class. Ms. Li is a great teacher,” sophomore Alexandra Gaines said.

Though she holds that Chinese is a valuable class to high school students, Gaines said that it shouldn’t take precedent in elementary schools. “Social studies is more important than Chinese,” said Gaines. “It’s always good to start learning early, but social studies is more important.”

Cover Story Editors Alysse Eberhard, Marissa Miller and Rachel Shaw contributed to this story.

A version of this article appeared in print on 20 April 2012, on pages 8 and 9 of The Shakerite.

The Challenges of Learning Chinese

Alysse Eberhard, Marissa Miller and Rachel Shaw, Cover Story Editors

When the IB Programme arrived at Shaker’s elementary schools last year, students said, “Ni hao” to an hour of weekly Mandarin Chinese language instruction taught by native speakers. This year, students said, “Zai jian” to an hour a week of social studies lessons.

Chinese instruction for elementary school students was added to meet the IB Primary Years Program language requirement, as “schools must provide instruction in the learning of a language other than the principal language of instruction of the school from the age of at least seven.”

The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages recommends elementary school students experience language instruction 3-5 days per week for 30-40 minutes per class. Shaker students in grades 2-6 experience one hour of Chinese instruction once per week, and first graders have 45 minutes per week. Chinese classes replace a “special” class such as art or music one week and a social studies class the next.

Correction: In an earlier version of this post and in the print edition of The Shakerite, the article misstated the frequency of weekly Chinese instruction for students in grades 2-6. It is once per week, not twice.

A version of this article appeared in print on 20 April 2012, on pages 8 and 9 of The Shakerite.

IB Brings World Language to Elementary Schools, but Social Studies Pays the Price

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