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Immersing in language, culture
Students from Broadway Elementary School shared their language skills as part of the Confucius Classroom Opening Ceremony. (Photo by Rebecca Kendall, International Institute)

Immersing in language, culture

The UCLA Confucius Institute celebrates opening of three Mandarin immersion programs in elementary schools.

By Basheer Alas for the Daily Bruin

The UCLA Confucius Institute held a ceremony Monday night to formally inaugurate three new Mandarin immersion programs in schools in Los Angeles and surrounding areas.

Known as Confucius Classrooms, the programs aid in the institute’s goal to promote Chinese language and culture, said Susan Pertel Jain, executive director of the institute.

Since its founding in 2007, the Confucius Institute has provided teaching and language centers to eight schools, said Xiaojie Ma, program coordinator for the Confucius Institute.

Monday’s event was held at the UCLA Faculty Center and attended by Chancellor Gene Block, along with principals and students from the schools in the program.

In a short public address, Block said the classrooms provide an enriching cultural experience and embodied a commitment to helping students succeed in a changing global economy.

Dressed in traditional Chinese attire, 6-year-olds introduced themselves in Mandarin and sang a song. The event also included traditional Chinese music and dance performances.

Confucius Classrooms are sponsored by Hanban, a nonprofit, non-governmental organization in China. The classrooms will take language immersion further by promoting partnerships with several schools in China, Ma said.

Students from Los Angeles schools will be able to interact with students in China via email to improve their Mandarin skills, Ma added.

Though the L.A. students are too young to visit China themselves, Ma said she hopes there will be an exchange of teachers and visits from the other schools’ principals.

Programs at elementary schools such as Broadway and the Norton Space and Aeronautics Academy are particularly effective because younger students are fast and effective learners, Ma said.

Broadway Elementary School in Venice began its partnership with the Confucius Institute and offered its first two Mandarin immersion programs in 2009, said Susan Wang, principal of Broadway.

The classes, which consist of students learning Mandarin for half the school day, soon expanded to six classes because of increased demand, Wang said.

Joyce Cliff, a 6-year-old student at Broadway, participated in a demonstration of the students’ Mandarin skills at the event. Cliff practices the language every day for an hour with her mother, who came with her to the event.

“My favorite part is learning to count,” Cliff said.

The Los Angeles County School for the Arts, located on the Cal State Los Angeles campus, has been offering Mandarin classes for three years now.

Promoting intercultural exchanges is the best way to prepare students for the 21st century, said Principal George Simpson.

Of the three schools, Norton Space and Aeronautics Academy in San Bernardino is offering Mandarin for the first time.

Mandarin is an exciting addition to an already established Spanish immersion program, said Jan Gustafson-Corea, principal of Norton Academy.

“Language and culture play a huge role in developing kids for the future,” Gustafson-Corea said.

Asia Institute