District ready to expand Mandarin program
Two kindergarten classes at Coquitlam’s Walton elementary will have a surprise for their school mates in a couple of weeks during a special assembly to mark the Chinese New Year.
The children attending Katie Suen’s class will be singing a song and wishing everyone Happy New Year in Mandarin. They’ll say “Xinnian kuaile” instead of the more familiar “Gung hay fat choy,” which is Cantonese.
This week, the students demonstrated their Mandarin language and writing skills for principal Sandra Meister, who said she was impressed at the ability of the students to pick up the language so quickly.
As many as eight languages are spoken at homes of the students, Meister said, and Mandarin is not an easy language to pick up.
“It’s quite amazing,” she commented as she watched the students say the words and then carefully draw the letters for sun, rain, middle, big and small.
Last September, School District 43 became the first district in B.C. to offer a Mandarin bilingual program for kindergarten and Grade 1 students. This September, a Grade 2 class will be added and the district is now registering for kindergarten and Grade 1.
On Tuesday, parents were introduced to the program at a special meeting and they have until next Wednesday, Jan. 26 to mail or deliver their registration forms (available online at www.sd43.bc.ca) to the school board office. A random draw will be held soon after to determine the 40 students who will enrol in the program this fall.
“It’s exactly what we did last year. I’m not interested in people camping around the block,” said assistant superintendent Maureen Dockendorf, who said last year’s registration saw 150 applications for 80 spots.
Similar interest is expected this year for the program of choice that appeals to a broad spectrum of parents. Dockendorf said registration is being held early so those who don’t get in can still register at their neighbourhood school.
The program is modelled after similar programs in Edmonton and offers 50% instruction in English and 50% in Mandarin. In Suen’s morning class, for example, the students participated in a discussion about the calendar and the weather before singing a song, practising their Chinese characters on a white board and then playing at various stations set up in the classroom.
After an hour of outdoor play with the other kindergarten students, the children go to their English class for similar activities.
Principal Meister said Grade 1 has more of an academic focus. “What’s exciting,” she said, “is this is B.C. kindergarten but it has a language component. It is solid play-based instruction and learning.”