As the new school year gets underway, hundreds of St. Andrew’s students in the Lower, Middle, and Upper School are having an experience unlike most other students in the state of Mississippi – they are learning Mandarin Chinese. While definitive numbers are hard to come by, more students now may be studying Chinese at St. Andrew’s than at all of the other schools in Mississippi combined.
Spoken by roughly one in six people on Earth, Mandarin is emerging as one of the principal languages of the 21st century, in part because of demographics, but also because of economics and the fact that the Chinese economy, now the second largest in the world, has grown at an average of 10 percent per year for the last three decades and continues to grow, even in the face of the global recession.
While St. Andrew’s introduced Mandarin on the North Campus five years ago, this year sees the extension of the program back into the Lower School, where younger students may be more capable of learning the tones and characters of this difficult language. Spearheading the effort to introduce Mandarin to the Lower School is Yun-Chu Chen, who recently completed a Master’s Degree in Applied Linguistics at Penn State. She is joined in the Lower School by another new native-speaking instructor, Omar Rachid, who is teaching Spanish (which is spoken at home by roughly one in nine Americans) during the school day and offering new auxiliary programs in French and Arabic after school. With a different language now offered every day after school (Mandarin on Mondays, Spanish on Tuesdays, American Sign on Wednesday, Arabic on Thursdays, and French on Fridays), students can complement or supplement their language classes, increasing exposure to the same language or keeping up with one that they already have started.
The languages in the Middle and Upper School continue to grow as well. Ellen Steeby, a former Peace Corps Volunteer from the Delta, joins the World Languages Department and is working to integrate the study of cultures and comparative linguistics to the fifth and sixth grade curriculum. In grades 7-12, students continue to choose from a strong core of Spanish, French, Latin, and Chinese. Upper School students also can pursue electives in introductory Italian and German, both of which have international trips associated with them. Of course, all Upper School students studying Spanish, French, and Chinese also can participate in a formal exchange with a St. Andrew’s partner school in one of those countries, with Latin and Italian students offered a chance to spend three weeks studying in Italy every other summer.
More details about the numerous international travel and hosting options will be presented as part of Saints Travel Night, which is scheduled for 6:30 PM on Thursday, September 8, in the Creekmore/Goings Lecture Hall (located in the new McRae Science Center). For more information about the expanding array of travel and language offerings at St. Andrew’s, please contact Dr. Chris Harth, Director of Global Studies and World Languages.