high schools offer Chinese language courses
At Yarmouth High School, 17-year-old Zach Hynes has been working with other students to persuade the school board to make a course in Chinese available next fall.
"Everything you hear in the news now is about China and the Chinese role in global economics and global affairs," Hynes said. "In terms of global affairs and global customs, Chinese is just a very useful language."
Chinese is now offered at 10 secondary schools in Maine, six of which started courses this school year. The Maine School of Science and Mathematics in Limestone was the first to teach Chinese, in 1995, and Westbrook added the language two years later.
Other schools that now offer it include Bangor High School, Erskine Academy in South China, Fryeburg Academy, Piscataquis Community High School in Guilford, Waynflete School in Portland and John Bapst Memorial High School in Bangor.
Chinese, which is spoken by a quarter of the world's population, has become the third most common language in the United States, after English and Spanish, according to Primary Source, a nonprofit organization that promotes international education in U.S. schools.
A recent conference at Colby College on "Learning Chinese in Maine" drew about 120 educators and students, with 34 Maine school districts represented, said Ryan Bradeen, director of Maine programs for Primary Source.
"Americans need to know more about the world in order to become efficient global competitors and global actors," Bradeen said. "It is simply not enough to be able to know about ourselves."
Last month, Maine Education Commissioner Susan Gendron signed a memorandum of understanding with a Chinese government educational agency to promote educational collaboration between China and Maine, such as having Chinese teachers come to the state to teach, said Don Reutershan, world languages specialist with the state Department of Education.
"We need to realize that our world is not what it used to be," he said. "Historically, much of our curriculum is Eurocentric in terms of curriculum. It's time to reposition ourselves."
While 214 Maine high school students now study Chinese, it appears that more would like to do so. Yuhong Sun, a native of China who has lived in Maine for nearly 10 years, began teaching Chinese language and culture at Noble High School this fall.
"So many kids wanted to sign up -- over 30 kids," Sun said.
In Yarmouth, school officials are considering a plan to allow the high school to apply for a grant that would help pay for a language teacher from China. The proposal, which would cost the town about $6,000, will be seriously considered for next year's budget, Superintendent Ken Murphy said.
Hynes, who graduates in the spring, won't get to study Chinese in high school. But he will be happy if the proposal he has worked on for two years finally becomes a reality.
His hope, he said, is that one day at Yarmouth High, Chinese "will be almost as mainstream as French and Spanish."