ISU-led trip to China inspires Indiana educators to add Chinese language classes

July 25 2007

Indiana State University proposing to create a center for Chinese language and culture to provide resources for K-12 teachers in Indiana

Students in the Hoosier state might soon be saying, “Zao an” to their teachers in the morning.

To build a foundation of understanding about the Chinese culture and education system, and create interest in teaching Mandarin in schools, Indiana State University led a delegation of 17 educators to China from June 24 through July 2.

“China is fast becoming the No. 1 global economy,” said Rebecca Libler, associate dean of ISU’s College of Education and a coordinator of the China visit. “Our students, in all grades, would benefit from understanding another culture, especially one that is having such an impact on our economy.

“With Indiana doing increasingly more business with China, we need to start teaching our children about this ancient and contemporary culture so they will be prepared to work with them when they enter the workforce.”

The most populous country in the world, China is seeking ways to build bridges with other economic powers, such as the United States, said Jacquelyn Clency, Indianapolis Public Schools assistant superintendent for middle school education and ISU alumna, who was part of the delegation.

“China represents a country that is very much on the move,” Clency said. “One of the education dignitaries who spoke to us in the Great Hall of the People said that China is not any longer about building walls, but about building bridges. That spoke to me, and the whole trip emulated that.”

China realizes the positives that can come from a good working relationship with the United States, so they are reaching out to teach us about their culture and their language, Clency says.

And the fact that a familiarity with Chinese language and social behavior will be an asset to U.S. students in their future careers is not lost on Clency.

“We are quite interested in starting a Chinese language program,” Clency said. “We realize that it would benefit our students to know Mandarin; that China will be a big player in years to come.”

While Clency said there is not enough time to inaugurate a program this coming fall, she is looking into starting it next year.

The educational trip was sponsored by the Office of Chinese Language Council International, also known as Hanban �-- a non-profit organization affiliated with the Ministry of Education of China. The idea of a trip to China for Indiana educators grew out of the relationship between ISU and Hanban.

“We are asking Hanban to partner with us so we can provide training to Indiana’s school teachers, such as summer workshops where they could learn Chinese,” Libler said.

An official proposal to establish a Chinese language and culture center at Indiana State has been submitted to Hanban, which provides funding and assistance to establish such centers throughout the world.

“Part of our proposal includes recruiting Chinese graduate students to our Teaching English as a Second Language program, and while they are here, they also would be able to teach Chinese in our partner schools,” Libler said.

With the Indiana Department of Education putting more emphasis on international studies; and seeking to increase the number of languages which are not commonly taught in school, such as Chinese and Arabic, ISU is creating ways to train K-12 teachers in the new skills they will need.

One of the challenges school systems face is a lack of trained and certified teachers of these foreign languages. With a long tradition of training teachers -- which goes back to its founding as a Normal school �" and its current outreach through its Professional Development School partners, Indiana State is working to fill that gap.

To assist ISU in its efforts to provide resources on Chinese language and culture to Indiana’s school teachers, the Chicago Consulate of the People’s Republic of China invited ISU to bring a delegation of educators to China as part of the Hanban’s Chinese Bridge for American and Korean Schools program.

Libler and Feng-Qi Lai, assistant professor in the curriculum, instruction and media technology department and a native of China, put together an Indiana delegation which joined 500 other educators from across the United States, and 200 from South Korea, who were selected to visit China’s K-12 public schools, meet the country’s educational leaders in the government, and tour areas of cultural significance.

“The trip was designed for the senior leadership of schools and school districts, and we had an avalanche of interest,” Libler said. “Since the state has recently made available a new and simpler pathway to licensure for native speakers of foreign languages, so they can teach credit-earning courses to students, many schools are ready to get on board.”

Rick Stevens, principal of McLean Alternative High School in Terre Haute and ISU alumnus, will be giving a first-hand account of China to his students this fall.

“Most immediately, I will be sharing my photos and experiences abroad with the World Civilizations class and inviting ISU faculty and staff in to share their expertise,” Stevens said, “but I also hope to get the students more engaged through an e-mail pen pal partnership with Chengdu Middle School.”

Education is highly valued in China, Stevens says, because not everyone gets the chance to go on to more formal education beyond the ninth grade.

“It will be good for our students to see the Chinese students’ focus and determination, to encourage them in their own educational and career path,” Stevens said. “I see kids here without hopes and dreams, and part of our job is to help kids realize that dreams can come true, no matter what your background.”

Joining Libler and Lai on the trip from ISU was Brad Balch, College of Education dean. They were accompanied by Vigo County elementary school principals Diane Cargile of Rio Grande, Alice Fuller of Sugar Grove, Christi Fenton of DeVaney, Madonna Johnson of Lost Creek, Dallas Kelsey of Davis Park, Michael Lewis of Hoosier Prairie, Dave Lotter of Riley, Susan Newton of Meadows, Joyce Schopmeyer of Ouabache; as well as principals Pat Sheehan of Honey Creek Middle School, and Rick Stevens of McLean Alternative High School.

Representatives from the Indianapolis Public Schools were Jacquelyn Clency, assistant superintendent of middle school education; Robert Guffin, principal of McFarland Middle School; and Robert Berry, principal of Thomas Carr Howe Academy (grades 7-12).

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ISU-led China Trip

Caption: As part of a trip to China for Indiana educators, led by Indiana State University, Rebecca Libler, ISU College of Education associate dean and associate professor, and Madonna Johnson, principal of Lost Creek Elementary School, observe a demonstration of mask-painting -- a typical craft taught to children in Chinese schools. The demonstration was part of a larger Chinese Teaching Materials Exhibition in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. (Submitted photo)

Contact: Rebecca Libler, College of Education associate dean and associate professor, Indiana State University, (812) 237-2899 or rlibler@indstate.edu

Writer: Katie Spanuello, media relations assistant director, Indiana State University, (812) 237-3790 or kspanuello@isugw.indstate.edu

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Story Highlights

To build a foundation of understanding about the Chinese culture and education system, and create interest in teaching Mandarin in schools, Indiana State University led a delegation of 17 educators to China earlier this month. ISU is gearing up to train teachers in Chinese language and culture to meet demand.

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