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Saugus Chinese program prepares students to travel

Posted: February 24, 2014 7:04 p.m.
Updated: February 24, 2014 7:04 p.m.

Saugus High School teacher Ying Fisher writes Chinese characters on a white board for a vocabulary lesson during her beginning Chinese class. The class prepares students to travel to China through Saugus High School's exchange program. Signal photo by Charlie Kaijo.

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Every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, students in Ying Fisher’s Chinese 1 class at Saugus High School begin their lesson with a song.

“We’ll start with the left side of the room and then the right side of the room,” Fisher announces to her students. “Feel free to stand up if it helps you project your voice.”

“Gong xi, gong xi, gong xi ni,” the class bellows, meaning “Congratulations.” It’s a New Year’s song, and the goal is expanding vocabulary.

Fisher’s class, which she has been teaching seven years, is the only Chinese class offered in Santa Clarita Valley’s public high schools.

“The class prepares students to go to China,” the teacher said during a recent interview. “The big challenge of this class is the mental fear because so many people say, ‘Chinese is the most difficult language. How can you handle it? It’s impossible.’”

The perception is accurate, according to the Department of Defense Language Institute in Monterey, the primary foreign- language training program for the Defense Department. It ranks Chinese in the highest time-consumption category for language training.

The completion of 26 weeks of Spanish or French training, for example, would yield the same expected graduation rate as 64 weeks of learning Chinese, according to the Defense Department.

Saugus High has offered Chinese classes for 10 years, said Principal Bill Bolde, and in April it will send 13 students to Xi-An, China, for 12 days during spring break.

“We are the only school to have a continuous true exchange with another school in China for a decade,” said Bolde.

The program started in August 2005 after Bolde and China Exchange Coordinator Patti Stevenson visited the Gaoxin No. 1 High School in Xi-An, China.

They met a woman named Madame Xiao, the superintendent of the school, who not only wanted her students to read and write English, but also to speak it, a model Stevenson and Bolde wanted to adopt.

They found Madame Xiao’s school had a contract with Brookline, a high school in Massachusetts, to do an exchange program, and by August Bolde and Stevenson signed an agreement to take five sophomores from their high school and an accompanying chaperone teacher every fall.

In exchange for the Chinese high school students studying at Saugus, every year Saugus High sends students to China. The school alternates sending students for six weeks in China during the summer, followed the next year by sending students 12 days in China during the spring break.

More than 40 students have gone to China through the exchange program since it started.

Fisher says she’s noticed that students who tend to be the most interested in the program have some kind of connection to China, like family members who live there or shared ethnicity.

Other high-interest students are those motivated by the competitive edge in learning the language.

“They heard from the news and parents that China is growing,” she says. “That’s where the opportunity lies, and they want to open more doors for themselves.”



FunTimeSportSharks: Posted: February 25, 2014 7:50 a.m.

That is terrific! It would be fantastic if the Hart district would add Chinese to GVHS within the next year or two... In our case, learning the language does have to do with my nephew who is half Chinese and speaks it fluently now in high school. My younger son wants to take Chinese so he can talk with his cousin (and his cousins other set of grandparents) and we're not looking forward to having ours kids at different highs in two years so he can. --edited.

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