11/14/04 — Teachers see need to take Chinese classes

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Teachers see need to take Chinese classes

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on November 14, 2004 2:10 AM

The number of Chinese-speaking students in Wayne County public schools has more than doubled since last year.

So many have come in that the school system is providing teachers with classes in conversational Chinese.

Hope Meyerhoeffer, director of the English as a Second Language program, said that 243 Asian students are enrolled in the school system. Last year, there were 93.

Chinese-speaking students are the second-fastest growing group in Wayne County, she said, behind Spanish.

Mrs. Meyerhoeffer said that when the influx started last year, teachers quickly spoke up.

"Some of the teachers said, 'We can't communicate with them.' They didn't have any background knowledge of the language."

The school system had seen a similar need a few years ago with an increase in Spanish-speaking students. Classes in Spanish were offered to educators. Mrs. Meyerhoeffer said it made sense to do it again, with Chinese.

Wayne Community College provided a teacher, Hai Di Luo. The classes have been meeting at Greenwood Middle School on Wednesday afternoons, with 18 classroom and English as a Second Language teachers attending. The classes will end next month.

The two most prevalent forms of the Chinese language are Cantonese and Mandarin. Mrs. Meyerhoeffer said Mandarin is being taught in the classes, which teach mostly vocabulary and common phrases.

"It has been very successful at this point," she said. "Teachers are able to do some communicating with their students.

"I'm proud of our teachers because they felt the need, felt like they needed to do something for themselves, for their students and for the parents at the same time."

She said that when she spoke with representatives at the state Department of Public Instruction, they were surprised to learn about the classes.

"We're the only school system that's doing this" in the state, she said.

Mrs. Meyerhoeffer said the county schools with the most Chinese-speaking students include Greenwood Middle, Meadow Lane Elementary, and Brogden and Eastern Wayne schools.

Jane Mull, a teacher at Greenwood, saw a rise in Chinese and Korean students last year. Though she has no Asian students this year, she thought it was important for her to take the classes.

"I don't expect to be conversational," she said. "The language is so complex.

"One word, the spelling will be the same, the pronunciation is the same, but the inflection means something else."

She hopes to learn a few words she can say.

"I try to get as much as I can in class," she said.

That's important, she said, especially if it will help a child from another country feel welcome.