Read the original story in the Wilsonville Spokesman here.
Over the past two years, the West Linn-Wilsonville School District has been reaping the rewards of a carefully nurtured relationship with the Confucius Institute at Portland State University. The most obvious result is the growing Chinese language program in WL-WV.
At the program’s beginning in the 2012-13 school year, two volunteer teachers came from China to live with host families and teach Chinese at Bolton, Stafford and Sunset primary schools while pursuing the equivalent of their master’s degrees at Portland State University. Because of that program’s success, district administrators expanded the program in 2013-14, bringing two teachers to the district’s three middle schools, with a full-time teacher at Inza R. Wood in Wilsonville teaching both a language class and a related arts class focused on arts and culture. Teachers at the middle school have teaching certificates and experience teaching in China and abroad.
This school year, the Chinese language program will continue its expansion, with Chinese teachers again working at Bolton, Stafford and Sunset, three teachers assigned to middle schools and one each working at the district’s two main high schools. Wilsonville High School will offer Chinese language instruction for the first time in 2014-15 while West Linn High School continues to develop its Chinese language program.
Teachers at the high school level are certified instructors.
“They are on par with the teachers we have teaching Spanish and French,” said Barb Soisson, WL-WV’s director of curriculum, instruction, assessment and research.
At the middle school level, teachers at Athey Creek and Rosemont will model their program on Wood’s 2013-14 Chinese instruction, with classes both in language and arts/culture.
“The idea is now the students at Wood, the kids who took the class, want to continue,” Soisson said.
Cat Nelson, 15, is one of those students whose interest was captured by the classes at Wood. She plans to take Chinese at Wilsonville High School as a freshman next year, and over the summer she developed her own relationship with the Confucius Institute — as well as her knowledge of Chinese language and culture — by taking a trip to China through the China Bridge Summer High School Program. She was one of 30 students selected from Oregon to spend two weeks in China visiting historic sites, learning about Chinese culture and forging relationships with Chinese high school students.
“It was pretty amazing there,” she said. “We got to see the Great Wall, and we went to the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square.”
Cat joined students from all over the United States on the Confucius Institute-sponsored trip that grouped students from different states and sent the groups all over China to explore and learn.
“We all got split into different groups and went to different provinces in China. Provinces are like states,” Cat said. “Three groups — Oklahoma, Arizona and Oregon — went to Shandong Province. We got to go and visit places like Confucius’ home town.”
“We cannot say enough about the Confucius Institute programs,” Cat’s mother, Kimberly Nelson, said. “It literally opens up a whole new world to students who want to learn about other cultures, and it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our daughter. She is already talking about going again next summer.”
Cat’s interest in Chinese developed last year, when she took both the culture and language class at Wood.
“I just fell into it,” she said. “It kind of got easier once I learned the tones. I’m going to be studying it at Wilsonville High School next year. They didn’t offer Chinese before. I feel like I can stick with it, because I’m very interested in the culture and the language and the people.”
Host families sought
Two families from West Linn and Wilsonville have the opportunity to nurture their own students’ interest in Chinese language and culture. Hosts are needed for the teachers assigned to Athey Creek and Wood.
The plan is to involve many families in the school district, with a rotating group of families extending invitations to dinner, sightseeing expeditions and cultural events. The host family, meanwhile, would be expected to provide just the evening meal and a room for the teacher to sleep in. While it’s preferred that host families have children attending WL-WV schools, it’s not a requirement.
“We want to have the whole village involved. (Hosts) won’t be the only person providing experiences for the teacher,” Soisson said. “We have found, in West Linn and Wilsonville, members of the community who really want to connect with these teachers. There are families interested in doing things with the teachers. There’s no expectation that you take the teacher everywhere. There’s an understanding that you have a busy life.”
The teachers will also have connections to a whole network of other teachers from China who are working in the area.
“The teachers who are here, they spend a lot of time on weekends at the Confucius Institute. There’s a lot of ongoing learning for them,” Soisson said.
The teachers come here on three-year travel visas, meaning it’s possible that they could stay at one school for multiple years. In other words, the Chinese portion of WL-WV’s world languages program is firmly established and expanding, thanks to the district’s commitment to the program, generous support from the community and the healthy relationship between WL-WV and the Confucius Institute.
“The relationship, it’s strong and growing,” Soisson said.
For information about serving as a host or providing other support for the Chinese teachers, contact Barb Soisson at email@example.com or 503-673-7020.