By Carol Maoz, Head of School
Shortly after I arrived at Foote School nine years ago, I heard from parents expressing interest in having a Mandarin Chinese program. As it happened, the next year we undertook our regular curricular review process for our Modern Language Department, so we decided to explore adding Chinese. Our year-long review process led to several conclusions.
The first was about proficiency, and the research on that is clear: the more time a student spends learning a language, the more proficient she will be. With this in mind, we moved up the point at which students select a language to study, from fourth grade to third grade.
Second, we recommitted to our philosophy that, in the early grades, language classes should be about exposure: playing with sounds, singing and movement, learning new games, celebrating holidays and festivals, trying new foods, making crafts by hand.
Finally, we concluded that adding Chinese to our curriculum made perfect sense, since it is the most widely spoken first language in the world. The interest among parents was strong and not surprising, given that New Haven is an academic and international community. Our own China Program has built an important and lasting connection between Foote and Yali, our Chinese sister school in Changsha. Each fall, Yali sends a guest teacher and a delegation of students and faculty to visit Foote, and in turn Yali hosts our ninth graders and faculty each spring. What’s more, New Haven and Changsha of officially became sister cities in 2016.
Since debuting in 2012, our Chinese language program has become an integral part of The Foote School. Indeed, with China’s growing role in the world, it is a critical part of a 21st-century education. At their core, languages are windows into other cultures that break down stereotypes and build bridges of understanding. Learning Mandarin helps us to better understand the Chinese people and culture, which accounts for a fifth of the world’s population, as well as the importance of America’s connection to China.
Foote student interest in Chinese has grown over the past six years and is poised to remain strong for years to come. Last year’s trip to China was the first to include ninth graders who studied Mandarin at Foote, a connection that presented them with new opportunities and challenges on the two- week excursion.
Much of the credit for our program’s success goes to Lely Evans, who as our first Chinese teacher has built a Mandarin curriculum that is experiential, rigorous and hands-on. Read our cover story from the fall 2018 issue of Foote Prints for an in-depth look at how our growing Chinese program has evolved and is incorporating the best of Foote’s successful approach to learning while propelling us into the future.