For families of Chinese heritage living in the southwest metro, Chinese school helps reinforce language skills taught at home and keep students in touch with a culture far removed from the one in which they’re growing up. For American families of any heritage, it offers an opportunity to expand cultural appreciation, accelerate second language skills and perhaps give a student interested in the fields of international business and policy a significant edge.
China is ranked second in gross domestic product (GDP) when comparing world economies and is one of the United States’ largest trading partners. More than 1 billion people on this planet speak Mandarin Chinese, and many southwest metro residents are asking, “why not me?”
Donghong Wang, principal and curriculum coordinator at the Minnesota Huaxia Chinese School in Eden Prairie, says many area families wanted an alternative to driving to St. Paul for Chinese school. The Huaxia School opened at Central Middle School in 2004 with 150 students and is now approaching 250. “For most of the students, the parents come from China and speak Mandarin Chinese. We have some special classes for students (grades pre-kindergarten through second grade) with no Chinese background.” According to Wang, some students who have continued through to the Advanced Placement classes have gotten perfect scores on the AP Chinese Language and Culture exam, earning them college credit and a fast forward in university studies.
Shimin Yang, a mother of three and language instructor at the Huaxia School, says that although her children had exposure to the Mandarin Chinese language in the home, she found the school experience valuable. “We can only do so many lessons at home. They enjoy it more when they see other kids learning and enjoying.” Some of the teachers teach as a profession, while others are parents with special talents to share. “We had one parent teacher teach how to use the abacus,” Yang says. “This year, we have a parent with a degree in vocal training teaching singing.” Additional classes are offered for Chinese folklore dance and drawing. An adult singing class is offered, and while the children learn, the adults can enroll in activities like Tai Chi or badminton, or simply relax with other parents.
At Chanhassen High School, the Minnesota International Chinese School (MICS) originated out of an interest in Chinese language classes for students from pre-K and older. Principal founder and curriculum coordinator Melody Zhou says students and parents recognize how valuable—and enjoyable—an understanding of the language and culture can be. For example, instructors use field trips to the Minnesota Harvest apple orchard and Minnesota Landscape Arboretum to practice food and color words. Sue Song of Eden Prairie says her son Danny, 9, enjoys the style of teaching at the school, where teachers use games and playful approaches. “In the class he likes to be good, because he gets selected to be team leader if he does well,” she says. “The class size is not too big, so each student has a chance to succeed.”
In addition to classes for children of Chinese background (the Heritage Track), MICS offers Mandarin Chinese as a Second Language Class (the Confucius Track) for children and adults interested in learning about the language and culture for business or travel purposes. Other cultural classes for children and adults include drawing, dance and Kung Fu.
Want to Know More?
Classes at both schools are offered on Saturdays from 12:30–4:30 p.m. throughout the school year. Both schools allow new students to try a class for free, so you can see if exploring Chinese languages from our corner of the world is right for you.
MN Huaxia Chinese School
8025 School Road, Eden Prairie
Minnesota International Chinese School
Chanhassen High School
2200 Lyman Blvd.