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Looking Back, Looking Forward: 20 Years of Chinese in Springfield, MA

September 2007 marks the 20 th anniversary of the Chinese Language and Culture Program in the Springfield MA Public Schools. The district will mark this impressive 20 year milestone with a year of celebrations. As many districts across the country are just beginning to offer Chinese as part of their foreign language program , Springfield will present activities and programs highlighting current and previous students and their work for the past twenty years.

In 1987, Springfield received funding from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation Chinese Initiative to partially support a three year project to introduce Chinese into the high school foreign language curriculum. In the twenty years since, Springfield has used federal funds from the Foreign Language Assistance Program, state funds from the Massachusetts Department of Education and most importantly, funds from the Springfield Public Schools district budget to expand and enhance Chinese instruction. Additionally, The Asian Arts and Culture Program at UMASS/Amherst has worked with the Chinese program for over ten years to expose Springfield students to the best of Asian arts and culture both in the schools and on the UMASS campus.

The small program of 1987 has expanded to its current impressive program of Chinese levels 1- Advanced Placement, offered at all four of the district’s high schools. Chinese is also offered at two of the district’s middle schools. From a beginning with one teacher, there are now eight full time teachers of Chinese working in the district. From 1987 with one class of Chinese I at two high schools with a total of 34 students, there are now 49 classesat six schools enrolling 1104 students. Some of the graduates of Springfield’s program have gone on to major or minor in Chinese in College and to use their Chinese language skills in their careers. One student worked at the American Embassy in Beijing, China and at a business there, as well. Another student returned to the Springfield Public Schools district as a Chinese teacher, and several students have gone to China to teach English. One student went on to major in music and compose Chinese music. Another student majored in The Arts with a concentration in Oriental painting. And these are just the ones who we know about. Who knows how the study of Chinese has impacted the lives of other students!

The district developed Chinese curriculum has served as a national model for districts beginning programs. The teachers of Chinese are often invited to share their expertise with others at the national level. Spring 2007 was an important date with the first national administration of the Chinese Advanced Placement Exam. One student at the High School of Science and Technology scored a 5 (the highest possible score) on this challenging test. Nine students from the High School of Commerce have passed the difficult International Baccalaureate (IB) Chinese Exam since 2003. The achievements to date are signs of more progress in the future.

In 200 1, a student/parent group of 22 from the High School of Science and Technology visited Chinaduring the April vacation . In April 2007 , a student/parent group of 30 from Central High Schoolvisited China. In these 20 years a number of Springfield teachers and administrators have traveled to China and Taiwan as invited guests of those governments and Ministries of Education. Officials representing the governments of China and Taiwan have visited the Springfield program and supported the work of the district.

Springfield’s 20 year celebration will kick-off with a proclamation from the Mayor and presentations at meetings of the School Committee and the City Council.

Various cable and public access television and radio programs will highlight the 20 th anniversary. Over 400 students and teachers will attend an October performance at UMASS of the shadow puppet show, The Birth of Monkey King. During the school year, teachers and students will have in-school festivities as part of their regular classroom instruction. The in-school goal is to have all students learn about this important milestone.

In addition to in-school events to celebrate Chinese New Year, there will be a very special district wide evening celebration on Wednesday, February 6, 2008 highlighting student classroom work, and artistic and cultural presentations. Parents and community members will be invited to share in this important occasion and to see the work of the students. All of the teachers and administrators who have visited China and Taiwan will be invited. The Superintendents who have supported the program for these 20 years, national and local legislators, and UMASS officials will be recognized for their contribution to the growth of the Chinese program.

We look forward to a growing awareness of the exemplary Chinese language and culture program offered in the Springfield Public Schools as we celebrate 20 years of growth. We also wish to express our admiration and gratitude to the visionary leaders who had the foresight and commitment to initiate such a program long before it was the popular trend that we see today. We also wish to recognize and thank our lead Chinese teacher who laid the foundation for our program 20 years ago and continues to be instrumental to the success of our growing Chinese program. Our gratitude, as well, goes to the administration that has continued to provide support for the Chinese program.

At the same time we celebrate our 20 year history, we continue to plan for the future. The “world” is no longer the vast territory it once was and we are able to travel to the other side of the globe in a matter of hours. Via the Internet, we can “travel” the world instantaneously. It is in the spirit of this smaller global community that we move forward to expand and strengthen Springfield’s Chinese program. Our students and community, both local and global, will be the beneficiaries. Please join us as we celebrate both the past and the future!