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Standing at the blackboard, freshman Isaiah Haines, 14, listens as his Mandarin teacher Su-Lien Reinert tells him what to write.
Standing at the blackboard, freshman Isaiah Haines, 14, listens as his Mandarin teacher Su-Lien Reinert tells him what to write. (Cindy Fisher / S&S)

KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — Educators on Pacific bases say they hope to expand a pilot Chinese language program launched this year at military dependent schools.

Kadena High School and Kubasaki High School on Okinawa and Seoul American High School in South Korea offered Mandarin as an elective. Seoul American Middle School offered the Chinese dialect as a non-credit introductory course.

The “program is very, very successful,” said Dr. Nancy Bresell, director of Department of Defense Dependent Schools-Pacific. “I predict that in a couple of years we’ll be filling those classes totally.”

About 15 Kubasaki students took advantage of the elective, said teacher Su-Lien Reinert. More would have signed up if the class had been made available before students had already signed up for other classes, she added.

Kubasaki junior Steven O’Briant said he got more than he expected from the class.

“I thought we would learn just the language, but we’ve also been learning about the foods and culture,” the 17-year-old said. “It’s been better than I expected.”

Reinert said she thought it was important to introduce her students to the Chinese culture as well as the written and spoken language.

“This is a hard language to teach,” she said. “With this language, you need for it to just click and for some people, it’s just hard.”

To help her students relate to the language, she introduced them to Chinese foods, holidays and activities such as calligraphy.

Teaching the class has been rewarding and in some ways disheartening, she said.

“Sometimes, I can see the improvements and sometimes, I feel like they haven’t learned anything,” Reinert said.

But, she added, a lot of the language — especially the written — is a matter of memorization and that is tough.

“I am proud of them that they try so hard,” she said, pleased with students’ overall success.

Reinert said she hopes to teach an advanced Chinese class next year to build on what students have learned.

The course will be introduced this fall at Guam High School and E.J. King High School in Sasebo.

Reinert began teaching a non-credit introductory course at Lester Middle School this semester, and Kadena Middle School will offer the course in the fall.

“At the middle school(s), kids are taking it the same way as they take art or music or Japanese culture,” Bresell said. “They’re in it for an academic quarter, just like an introductory course.”

Students can then decide if they want to continue studying the language in high school.

And in coming years the plan is to also offer the course as an elective at the smaller high schools “as long as we can identify manpower spaces we can use for those positions,” Bresell said.

The principals at Seoul American’s middle and high schools are calling the pilot program successful in their schools.

Darrell Mood, middle school principal, said he’s “immensely proud” to have the Mandarin language program in his school.

“We’ve piqued their interest with another language that they ordinarily wouldn’t be used to,” Mood said.

He said next year’s enrollment shows the program is working.

“Essentially every kid has agreed to take a second year,” Mood said. “Parents are encouraging it.”

While the program is geared toward 7th- and 8th-graders, it’s introduced to 6th-graders as an “Exploratory Wheel” elective called “Passport Chinese.”

With the addition of Mandarin, the middle school now offers five language choices. The others are Korean, French, German and Spanish.

High school principal Robert Sennett said the classes are full and the kids are sticking with their language choice.

They hope to expand the program, Sennet said.

Stars and Stripes reporters Jennifer Svan and T.D. Flack contributed to this report.

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