Educators discuss the Chinese immersion program.

Kindergartners go global

Chinese immersion program at McIlvaine Early Childhood Center


10:19 a.m., March 15, 2013--The world is getting smaller for five year olds in Delaware’s Caesar Rodney School District. 

Students in other countries often learn world languages beginning in the early years. In order to prepare the state’s workforce for a global economy in the decades to come, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell has launched the World Language Initiative (WLI) program with the goal of students mastering another language before entering high school. 

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This school year, 100 kindergartners attending the J. Ralph McIlvaine Early Childhood Center in Magnolia, Del., entered the state’s only Chinese language immersion program. Kindergartners spend half their day learning literacy, math, science and social studies in Chinese and the other half in English speaking classes. 

The program was successfully launched thanks to the efforts of several University of Delaware alumni and the support of UD’s Confucius Institute

Kevin Fitzgerald, superintendent of the Caesar Rodney School District, whose district has embraced the concept of preparing students for a global economy by offering six languages in high school, jumped at the opportunity to provide kindergarten students with the advantage of learning Chinese. Fitzgerald earned his doctorate degree from UD’s College of Education and Human Development

Sherry Kijowski, principal at McIlvaine Early Childhood Center, and assistant principal Brook Castillo, both UD graduates, were responsible for implementing the program at McIlvaine ECC. 

“It is amazing to walk through the halls this year and hear five-year-olds saying ‘ni hao’ (hello) and ‘xie xie’ (thank you),” says Kijowski. “We had 285 applicants for 100 slots in our school, demonstrating that many parents recognize the benefits of knowing another language and deliberately choosing to enroll their children in our Mandarin Chinese program.”

Carrie Fang, program coordinator at the Confucius Institute -- and a UD graduate as well -- led the collaboration with McIlvaine ECC, helping to introduce Chinese language and culture to the community. They developed evening programs at the school to teach students and parents about Chinese characters, instruments and costumes, as well as holding programs on science, social studies and traditional festivals.

Since few teachers in Delaware are qualified to teach in Chinese, the Confucius Institute helped connect state officials with Hanban, a Chinese government agency that identifies teachers who want to work overseas for up to three years. 

Markell is so impressed by the success of the existing programs, he has committed to expanding the K-8 immersion program, with an annual investment of $1.9 million, designed to reach nearly 10,000 students by 2022.

In addition to the Chinese program at McIlvaine Early Childhood Center and a Spanish program at John. M. Clayton Elementary School and Lewis Elementary School, seven elementary schools will begin offering the program for the 2013-14 school year.

Article by Alison Burris

Photos by Kathy F. Atkinson

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