SANFORD — Fifth-grade students in Mei-En Marler classes at Bentley Elementary can politely tell you what they ate for lunch, ask for directions and introduce themselves — all in Mandarin Chinese.
Her students are at the forefront of a Seminole County push to teach foreign languages at the elementary school level. In the fall, the district plans to offer Spanish, French, German or Chinese to students in each of its 38 elementary schools. Parents at each school will have the opportunity to enroll their children in the program.
This will make Seminole the first school district in Central Florida and only the second in the state, after schools in Miami-Dade County, to offer foreign languages to all elementary students. Orange County, which has 114 elementary schools, offers foreign-language Magnet programs in four of them. The lake schools do not offer foreign languages at the elementary level.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Minnie Cardona, who oversees the rollout of the new language programs in Seminole schools. The district’s experience has shown that students who study an international language also do better on English assessments. “It’s one of the skills of the 21st century,” she said.
Bentley’s fifth-grade students have had access to Chinese since they were in kindergarten, thanks to a scholarship that has since expired. The district chose Chinese because it’s a major global language, Cardona said. In each school, parents can choose to enroll their children in lessons. Demand has been high.
Students at Sanford School typically receive two or three 40-minute language lessons per week. English Estates Elementary has offered Chinese classes for five years, and Heathrow and Carillon Primary Schools have Chinese enrichment classes once a week. for about four years, Cardona said. These two schools will benefit from an additional day next year.
Last year the district added Spanish to Bear Lake and Eastbrook. Six other schools have classes where students learn half the day in English and the other half of the day in Spanish.
When primary school students learn Chinese, they mainly work on speaking, listening and reading skills, said Paula Chen, who teaches Chinese lessons at English Estates and Heathrow. Students learn to write basic Chinese characters and numbers and practice real-life scenarios such as ordering food at a restaurant, she said.
Students also play traditional Chinese games, sing songs, make crafts and prepare food.
Recently, Bentley students sang “It’s a Small World” in Chinese and worked in pairs to describe the color of clothes worn by a paper doll. Marler gently corrects the pronunciation.
“It’s exciting to learn,” said 11-year-old Arushi Chopde, who has been learning Chinese at Bentley since kindergarten. She hopes to continue studying the language.
Cardona said Seminole schools work to ensure that students who are beginning to learn a language will be able to continue their studies in middle school and high school. French and German will be offered in some elementary schools next year because of the language provision in the secondary schools they feed, she said.
The district offers an online exploratory Chinese course at South Seminole Middle School, but does not currently offer it in a high school. That could change in the fall.
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Madhu Chopde, Arushi’s mother, said the class adds an entirely new element to her daughter’s upbringing.
“In addition to learning science and math, she’s being exposed to another global culture. That’s what I love,” Chopde said.
Marler, who like Chen is of Taiwanese descent, has a similar goal for her students.
“I hope that one day when they travel to China, they will have the ability to communicate, understand the culture and adapt easily to the environment,” she said.
And Bentley Elementary principal Martha Garcia said the classes are a real selling point for her school.
“When parents hear it, they get really excited,” she said. “How many schools can say they offer Chinese? »
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