Mandarin pushed for area schools
The Arizona Republic
Nov. 24, 2006

Ray Parker

Gilbert Public Schools students could soon be added to the some 1 billion Mandarin Chinese speakers, the most frequently spoken language in the world.

After a recent trip to Leshan, China, as part of the Gilbert Sister Cities Exchange Program, Superintendent Brad Barrett said he would be proposing the language be offered at high schools to the school board.

Barrett and other educators were motivated to take the trip after reading Thomas Friedman's best-seller The World Is Flat, which shows how the United States already is competing with the Chinese in the same marketplace. "What we learned in that book is that we neglect the continent of China and India at our own peril, that those are the continents and those are the people, billions of people strong, that are taking over business and industry worldwide," Barrett said in his presentation to the Gilbert Town Council on Nov. 7.

Although still preliminary, Barrett said he'd propose offering Mandarin in the high schools.

And as part of the cultural exchange, Chinese students will be invited to host homes with Gilbert families next school year, and the following year, Gilbert students will be able to travel to China.

Mandarin is the main language of government, education and the media in China and Taiwan.

Lorie Miller, Gilbert schools' director of health services, accompanied Barrett and others to China over the district's fall break, Oct. 16-20.

Miller said she came back with an appreciation for how serious Chinese students take their studies.

"Our children need to concentrate on their studies and make education their job," Miller said. "For the children in China, education is their job, they don't even do chores, because their job is homework for three hours a night."

In the Valley, several schools have already responded to the new language demand.

Mesa Unified School District started Mandarin classes at Dobson High this
school year. The district also applied for a federal grant to begin teaching
it in elementary schools.

Scottsdale Basis, a public charter school, has offered Mandarin to its
middle school students for several years.

Phoenix Union's Central High and Bioscience High offer Mandarin, and this
spring, the class will be available at Phoenix Preparatory Academy in the
Phoenix Elementary School District.

Phoenix Country Day School, a private school in Paradise Valley, received
a donation to begin elementary Mandarin classes in the 2007-08 school year.

Liana Clarkson, the Mesa district's world languages director, said finding
Mandarin teachers in the Phoenix area is not a problem because of the large
Chinese-American community.