St. Benedict's offers Chinese language program

By Steve McConnell
Staff Reporter
Posted 7/23/07

ELBERTA – With a burgeoning population and lightning fast economic growth, the People’s Republic of China has solidified a firm place on the international relations scene as business with the powerhouse can make or break nations and …

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St. Benedict's offers Chinese language program

Posted

ELBERTA – With a burgeoning population and lightning fast economic growth, the People’s Republic of China has solidified a firm place on the international relations scene as business with the powerhouse can make or break nations and corporations. 

And to stay in step: Saint Benedict School, a catholic elementary and middle school in Elberta, will offer Mandarin and Chinese culture classes in hopes of giving their students an edge on America’s rapidly evolving relationship with China. 

The idea of teaching Mandarin, the national language of China, spoken by approximately 1 billion in places including the U.S., South America, Europe, Africa and the Middle East, seemed counter-intuitive to the rise and growing popularity of Spanish language studies, said Mick Donovan of Saint Benedict’s China Development Committee.   

But, he noted: “Rather than pursuing something that is normal, let’s try something unusual (and)…let’s do something that will add value to the kids for success in later life.”

Donovan said that as Chinese relations increase with U.S. businesses and American politics, St. Benedict’s students will have an upper-hand by attaining fluency in Mandarin – a mushrooming global language. 

“They could certainly have an impact with improving relations with the Chinese,” he added. 

Donovan and committee members Jack Danley, Matt Flanigan and Tom Glenn pitched the Mandarin concept to the Mobile arch-diocese and the Pensacola diocese, eventually earning support to implement a pilot program at Saint Benedict’s. 

In September 2006, they contacted the Chinese Consulate - responsible for China’s diplomatic relations - in New York City, relaying the committee’s general plan “to open a Chinese language and culture center of excellence.”

The consulate referred them to its Houston location, who thereafter informed the committee of China’s guest-teacher program, funded by the Chinese government and managed by the College Board, the company responsible for the standardized college admissions test (SAT). 

The committee applied to the board’s highly selective program, which reviews innumerable applications and screens guest teachers in conjunction with the Chinese government, ensuring they meet certain qualifications for teaching in the U.S. 

Although the board’s program, if selected from the application process, provides a Chinese teacher for two-years with their salary paid by Beijing, Saint Benedict’s outlined a long-term plan that hopes to make Mandarin and Chinese culture classes available for all grades not only within their school, but also to spread the program to other private and public schools throughout the county. 

Donovan speculates that this comprehensive plan added weight to their application as the board ended up choosing Saint Benedict’s in May - the first Catholic grammar school in the U.S. to be selected by the board and the only school in Alabama to receive a guest teacher from China.

“To our astonishment…we probably had about zero chance of getting a teacher,” he noted since applications were pouring in from school districts in New York and Boston. 

Donovan said that Saint Benedict’s will serve as an “emissary” to Baldwin County educational institutions by sharing their experience with the program and the usefulness of Mandarin with the intent to convince area schools to establish high school and university level courses. 

Kendall McKee, school principle, said that Saint Benedict’s pilot-program will offer 20 minutes of Mandarin instruction from pre-kindergarten to fifth grades, and sixth to eight grades will have a Chinese language and culture elective as a 50 minute class.

“We want to try to make sure we can build the infrastructure,” Donovan said, noting that as the pilot-program develops the school would like to expand further it by offering adult classes in the evening.

In mid-August, Saint Benedict’s educators will meet Wang Zhenghai, the sought after teacher who will reveal Mandarin “to our school and the community,” McKee said.

Classes begin in the fall.