NASELLE — Instead of “Dick and Jane” and “See Spot Run,” the morning curriculum at Naselle for kindergartners next fall will be entirely in Mandarin Chinese if a proposal to include an immersion language curriculum is passed by the Naselle-Grays River Valley School Board at their June 19 meeting.

The district is considering implementation of dual-immersion education to kindergarten students whose parents choose to participate in the Mandarin Chinese program next year. If adopted by the school board, the program will be taught by a teacher from China and the students who voluntarily enroll will speak nothing but that language exclusively during their morning classes next fall.

“Throughout the country, elementary schools are starting dual-immersion programs in Mandarin,” said Naselle Superintendent, Dr. Rick Pass. “As China’s population of a billion people and their booming economy is moving into the world-wide scene, we see it as a strong advantage for our students to gain fluency in both English and Mandarin. This will help prepare Naselle students to be globally competitive as our world’s cultural gaps get smaller and smaller. We hope to prepare our students for both jobs and opportunities, many of which do not exist as yet, and this program is a positive step in that direction.”

Naselle schools also hope to capitalize on academic gains and improvements as a result of elementary students learning a second language. The program will continue through the students’ grade school years, if adopted. “Research points to the amazing ability of children to learn second, third and more languages until about the age of 11. Kids’ brains are more able to acquire language in ways that are almost impossible for older students and adults. We have visited seven schools from Seattle to Lansing, Mich. Every principal has shown us that their immersion students not only meet expectations in state level math and reading tests, they far exceed them,” Dr. Pass explained.

“Though Naselle is no stranger in consistently producing high-achieving results on state tests, we see potential for even better results. Naselle has traditionally seen high success in state testing; in fact we gained national recognition in 2009 with our Federal Blue Ribbon Award. However, we believe that a quality education goes beyond producing exceptional test scores. We want our kids to be productive global citizens. We want them to realize their ability to be effective and collaborative contributors, not only to our society in the U.S., but in the world. Learning the most widely spoken language in the world will help achieve that goal,” Pass related.

For the last several months, Naselle school employees have been meeting with universities, state agencies and leading researchers on the pros and cons of dual-immersion education.

“It all started with our administrative team getting to know Dr. Yong Zhao, who is currently the professor of global education at University of Oregon. Dr. Zhao has helped us build relationships at Michigan State University, one of the world leaders in Mandarin immersion programs. MSU recruits, trains and places some of the best teachers in China. We are fortunate to be in the position to partner with their program,” Pass said.

Naselle teachers, principals and the superintendent have developed relationships with several leading K-12 schools in Washington, Oregon and Michigan in their past several months of research. “We continue to learn an incredible amount on the benefits of dual-immersion. We have gained support from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. It was interesting to learn that the Department of Defense classifies Mandarin as a critical language to our national security,” Pass related.

“With a trend of decreasing enrollment in the Naselle district, an immersion program could benefit our district. Every school we have talked to who has implemented dual-immersion programs has seen explosive growth in their school population,” Pass stated. “We hope to have the ability to grow this program with families looking to enroll their children in immersion programs.”

A meeting last week gave parents a chance to voice their opinions and ask questions. Mary Jane Anderson, whose son William will be attending kindergarten next fall, said, “I want William to go for it when it comes to learning a second language. He is already articulate beyond his years and the reality is, for a program like this to come to our area is something we cannot pass up. We need to instill that entrepreneurial attitude in our kids early so they don’t feel stuck in a rural community. This program is a gift and I’m excited that (husband) Wes and I can send our son to a school that hopefully will offer this. We don’t want to limit our son or our new-born daughter Brialle’s opportunities.”

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz told the Seattle Times, “China’s emerging as one of the centers of the world, if not the center of the world. If my kids were of very young ages, I would be encouraging them to learn Chinese.”

Naselle schools has created a Frequently Asked Questions page that can be found at http://tinyurl.com/naselleimmersion. “Everyone from the Governor’s office to the U.S. State Department is encouraging schools to look at these programs,” Pass concluded.

Even if Naselle does not adopt the immersion program for the 2012-13 school year, the district plans on establishing relations with a sister school in the city of Hebei in the Henan province in the People’s Republic of China. Hebei has similarities to Washington as 40 percent of the labor force works in agriculture, forestry or animal husbandry. The 2011 gross national product of Hebei was $379 billion, while Washington’s 2010 GNP was $351 billion.

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