Mandarin department receives new funding

This year, PHS received a $13,000 donation from the Asia Society Confucius Classrooms Network to be used towards teaching equipment and educational opportunities for the growing Mandarin program, which currently includes seven class levels at the high school and two levels at John Witherspoon Middle School.

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Photo by Annie Kim

In 2006, the Mandarin program was initiated at Princeton High School with 42 students on the Mandarin I level, and has now expanded to 145 students in levels ranging from Mandarin I to AP Mandarin. “Our former Superintendent, Ms. Wilson, went to China … and she thought it was a very wonderful language for students to learn,” said Mandarin teacher Shwu-Fen Lin, who teaches Mandarin II to AP Mandarin.  “And then they started the program and hired me [to become] their Mandarin teacher.”

PHS, one of around 100 national Confucius Classrooms sponsored by the Asia Society, received the donation from Hanban, the educational outreach arm of the Chinese government. The funds support purchases of workbooks, chaperones for the exchange program, technology such as iPads, and cultural activities for the Confucius Celebration. This money is really for just about anything we need it for, so it funds our going to the National Chinese Language Conference, which is an annual conference run by College Board and the Asia Society. The conference likes Princeton Public Schools to come and to give sessions there, so we’re known for developing communicative competence and confidence in speaking Mandarin,” said Foreign Language Supervisor Priscilla Russel.

Members leading the Mandarin program, under the leadership of Lin, actively participate in annual conferences and workshops, including the National Confucius Classrooms meeting, where Lin leads workshops for teachers from across the nation. In April 2016, she will attend the National Chinese Language Conference along with Russel and the Mandarin teachers at John Witherspoon Middle School.

Mandarin is integrated both inside and outside the classroom to maximize the student learning experience. Numerous cultural events, including the Asian Festival and the Lunar New Year Festival, help bring Chinese culture to PHS’s Mandarin students. “The curriculum design is very interesting: [it keeps] the students interested and increases their proficiency level [in] not only writing, [but also] speaking,” Lin said.

Furthermore, the exchange program conducted with Princeton High School’s sister school, Qingdao No. 2 Middle School, helps students experience real world applications of their knowledge of Mandarin. This year, 23 Mandarin students participated in this program, and 32 participated two years ago in the program’s debut. In future years, Lin hopes that the students will become pen pals beforehand so they will have some familiarity with their host families. In addition to the exchange program, Lin plans to sustain PHS’s relations with its sister school by using Skype or email to establish more frequent communication between students in the two schools.

Within their high school careers, several students have gained recognition for their linguistic achievements. For the 2013–2014 and 2014–2015 school years, Mandarin students at PHS have been successful in the Foreign Language Educators of New Jersey Senior Scholarship Competition, which includes oral and essay portions. Individual scholarship money from the competition grants up to $1,000 to the winners. Lydia Duff ’16 was the winner for the 2013–2014 school year, and Architha Sudhakar ’15 won last year. Through the National Security Language Initiative for Youth program, Stefan Pophristic ’17 was selected to attend a trip to China during the summertime.

The Mandarin program significantly impacts students even after leaving PHS. “It’s not only [to] learn Mandarin in Princeton High School, my goal is to promote this program so the students can become life-long learners,” Lin said.

Correction: There are seven classes, not seven levels

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