Burdell-Hunt students taking to Mandarin instruction enthusiastically

acastillo@macon.comAugust 22, 2012 

As Mandarin Chinese teacher Jie Jiang stepped into Sybil Coffee’s second-grade classroom Wednesday morning, a student chorus of “ni hao!” -- the Chinese word for hello -- rang out.

For 20 minutes, the students at Burdell-Hunt Elementary reviewed basic introductions and greetings. After going over simple phrases, students took turns singing a Chinese birthday song in front of the class, showing their eagerness during the entire lesson.

So far, the “kids are really nice and they learn fast,” said Jiang, who moves from room to room during the day to teach.

While each Bibb County elementary school has its own schedule for teaching students the language, students in kindergarten through second grade at Burdell-Hunt receive daily lessons. Burdell-Hunt administrators are looking at options for expanding Mandarin instruction to older students there.

The school system introduced Mandarin Chinese for students in pre-kindergarten through third grade this year, taught by teachers brought to Macon through the Confucius Institute at Kennesaw State University.

Since Jiang, 24, began teaching students last week, they have been enthusiastic, she said, often greeting her in Chinese as they arrive to school.

After students learn basic greetings this week, they’ll tackle numbers, colors, family members, animals and fruits, as well as taking part in activities throughout the year such as learning how to use chopsticks and writing with a bamboo brush.

During Wednesday’s class, students practiced saying “good morning,” “good afternoon” and “good evening” aloud as Jiang held flashcards depicting different times of day.

“Now let’s see if you can write some Chinese,” Jiang said after the flashcard exercise. “This is a little difficult, but I think you can do it.”

On the board, Jiang wrote the characters for “good evening,” pronounced “wan shang hao.”

Second-grader Immanuel Hawkins volunteered for the task, writing his characters underneath Jiang’s and beaming when she congratulated him in Mandarin.

Jiang said she hadn’t planned on having the students write Chinese characters, but students have surprised her during the time she’s been teaching in Bibb County.

“I think kids have the potential,” she said.

Jiang said the American students she has taught have been more active, creative and inquisitive compared to their Chinese counterparts.

But it’s been “a little bit challenging to teach American kids,” Jiang said. “I also like it.”

Jiang has taken on duties other teachers have, such as morning duty as students get to school. She also has a teacher mentor and visited with other teachers outside of the school day.

“Ms. Jiang has really become part of our school community,” Burdell-Hunt Principal Tanya Allen said. “She’s just been very cooperative in working with everyone.”

Before the school system introduced Mandarin, first- through fifth-grade students at Burdell-Hunt -- Bibb’s communications magnet school -- were already taking Spanish, Allen said. Elda Bryan, who is from Nicaragua, teaches Spanish there.

In studying both languages, students have the chance to learn a lot about other cultures right in their hometown.

“The students may not get the opportunity to travel,” Allen said, ... “but through their teachers’ experiences, they get to see how people live in other parts of country and become very global in their way of thinking and living.”

To contact writer Andrea Castillo, call 744-4331.

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