Camp Ni Hao provided a variety of activities. Pictured are (from left, front row) Kiral Snare, Abby Morgan, Nyla Mason and Dylan Fuchs, and (back row) Ming Wu and Wei Wang.

Hello from Camp Ni Hao

UD alumni expand Chinese immersion program


1:37 p.m., July 24, 2013--Margaret Mead once said, “Never believe that a few caring people can't change the world. For, indeed, that's all who ever have.” The quote embodies how the staff at the McIlvaine Early Childhood Center (MECC), the Caesar Rodney School District (CRSD), the University of Delaware’s Confucius Institute and the school’s community approached the inaugural year for the Chinese Immersion Program. Everyone worked as a team for the betterment of their students.

During the 2012-13 school year, 100 kindergarten students spent half their day learning lessons in English and the other half learning in Chinese at MECC. While it sounds like a challenging proposition, the results were extremely positive.

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Academically, the students in the immersion program achieved at the same high level as students in the English-only classrooms. McIlvaine’s school-wide data demonstrated that:

  • 95.4 percent of students met or surpassed grade-level norms on the DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills);
  • 90 percent of students met or exceeded the standard for stand-alone writing; and
  • 94.1 percent of students were reading at or above grade level.

The program in the fall will continue with the original Chinese immersion cohort continuing into first grade at W.B. Simpson Elementary and Allen Frear Elementary school. One hundred new kindergartners will begin the Mandarin program at MECC this August, as well.

To benefit both incoming kindergartners and rising first graders, the Caesar Rodney School District partnered with UD’s Confucius Institute and established Camp Ni Hao.

“The Caesar Rodney School District prides itself on providing students with a variety of opportunities related to the four A’s (academics, arts, athletics, and atmosphere),” said Kevin Fitzgerald, CRSD superintendent. “Chinese dual immersion instruction is an example of the district’s commitment to continue to expand opportunities for our students. We are grateful to be able to partner with the University of Delaware’s Confucius Institute to enhance this opportunity for our district’s youngest students.”

Numerous UD alumni have played an integral role in the introduction of the Chinese Immersion Program and the Camp Ni Hao project, including Fitzgerald, who received a doctor of education degree in 2003; MECC Principal Sherry Kijowski, who received a master’s degree in 2003 and a doctor of education degree in 2012; MECC Assistant Principal Brook Castillo, a 2002 graduate; Susan Pearce Williams, a 2008 graduate; and Confucius Institute coordinator Carrie Fang, who received a master of business administration degree in 2011.

During the program’s inaugural year, the Confucius Institute participated in school-wide monthly parent parties, multicultural events and the school’s first Chinese New Year celebration.

To create Camp Ni Hao, staff from the Confucius Institute partnered with school faculty to plan lessons, teach classes, and facilitate small group and large group learning activities. Approximately 160 students will incorporate the following learning opportunities on a daily basis:

  • Physical activities (tai chi, drum dance, dragon dance, kung fu numbers);
  • Story time (traditional Chinese folk tales, songs, chants);
  • Arts and crafts (origami, calligraphy painting, masks); and
  • “Culture club,” comparing American and Chinese culture by sharing clothing, food and instruments.

Additionally, CRSD middle school and high school students who are taking Chinese language classes will serve as junior counselors, providing them language learning opportunities.

The Chinese Immersion Program will expand in Delaware as a part of the Governor’s World Language Initiative, and will be introduced at John R. Downes Elementary School and Kathleen H. Wilbur Elementary School in the fall (News Journal article and video, July 24, 2013).

Article by Alison Burris

Photo courtesy of the McIlvaine Early Childhood Center

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