CUMBERLAND — Many children who are taking part in the Chinese Partial Immersion Program offered at West Side Elementary School are keeping up with their Chinese studies by attending a summer academy.
A year-round program that began in 2012, Chinese immersion teaches kindergarten and first-grade students language and culture skills as well as science, technology, engineering and mathematics all while using the Mandarin Chinese language.
“The kids in Chinese immersion are going in the summer to maintain their skills,” said Laura Miller, a media specialist at West Side and an aide for the summer academy.
The summer program, known as the Chinese Summer Academy, focuses more on cultural understanding and less on the Chinese language.
During the school year, children in the program receive their course work in English and Chinese. During the Chinese portion, no English is spoken during class time.
According to David Cox, the Allegany County superintendent of schools, Chinese has been targeted by branches of the U.S. government as a dual-immersion program.
“I’ve been interested in second languages studies for a long time. Research shows that it helps kids learn better if they can process in two languages,” said Cox.
Cox and other educators from across the country were invited to the headquarters of the CIA in Langley, Va., and learned of the U.S. intelligence community’s need for Americans who are fluent in Chinese, Arabic, Farsi and Hindu.
“I’ve wanted to build a program. When the grant opportunity came, the time was right,” said Cox.
A federal grant is supplying the funding for the Chinese immersion program.
The summer session is being taught by native Chinese instructors Mandy Tang and Yanling Fan, along with West Side teachers Melanie DeMoss and Miller.
About 60 students attended the summer session. Parents enroll their children and then any unfilled openings are made available to siblings.
Tang, 25, who is from Hunan Province in southern China, obtained a master’s degree in education from Frostburg State University.
“When they say that kids of this age are the best for learning languages — it’s true,” said Tang.
Tang said the program helps children learn another culture and that there are different people in the world who eat different foods and have different holidays.
“It’s magical how these kids take it in. They are like little sponges,” said Miller, who has a daughter in the program.
Miller told a story of how a boy from the Chinese program was visiting Boston with his parents and they all went to a Chinese restaurant. The parents said the boy spoke to the wait staff in Chinese and continued talking until he used all his words.
Two children in the summer academy are Lila Hocheral and Ben Strozykowski, both age 6.
“At first it was scary,” said Hocheral, whose favorite words are “hua” which means flower, and “ni hao” for hello.
But she quickly learned to enjoy the class.
“It’s fun to say and it’s easy to learn about. The teachers make it easy,” said Hocheral.
Denia Hocheral, Lila’s mother, said she had been looking for something different for her children to add to their traditional learning experience.
“The thought of learning another language sparked my interest. Lila doesn’t want to miss a day of class. I think it can open doors for them,” said Denia. Denia also has another daughter, Ivy, in the program.
Strozykowski is already thinking of making a career of using the Chinese language.
“I want to go to China and teach them English,” said Strozykowski.
Strozykowski said he likes to count in Chinese.
“It can help you a lot. If you go to China, you can talk and not just use signs and stuff,” he said.
A closing ceremony for the summer academy was held Friday with children doing lion, dragon and peacock dances as well as singing Chinese songs and re-enacting the moon, dragon and lantern festivals.
Education officials hope that the program will continue to be available to students through grade five.
“I like the possibilities it offers our children,” said Cox.
Cox said that West Side Principal Molly Stewart and Dee Blank, the elementary supervisor for the board, have done a great job developing and running the Chinese program.
Greg Larry can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.