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Wednesday, January 10th, 2007

A possible unique choice

By Margie Wuebker
MARIA STEIN - Marion Local High School students could have another option when it comes to selecting a foreign language class.
And it has nothing to do with Spanish, German or American sign language.
Superintendent Carl Metzger has been exploring the possibility of adding Mandarin Chinese through a cooperative effort between the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) and Hanban, the national office of teaching Chinese as a foreign language.
The program would include bringing a teacher from China to instruct the course at Marion Local. The program already is in place at four Ohio schools, Chagrin Falls, Shaker Heights, Belpre and Tipp City (Tippecanoe).
"We're already unique in offering sign language and German as foreign language electives," Metzger told board of education members meeting Tuesday night. "This would be cost efficient and give our kids one more option."
Mandarin Chinese is the official spoken language used by The People's Republic of China, The Republic of China (Taiwan) and Singapore. One of six official United Nations languages, it ranks as the number one spoken language by 867.2 million people throughout the world.
Under an ODE/Hanban agreement, volunteer Chinese teachers with college-level education, a love for language and culture and a fluent command of English would be recruited, screened and interviewed before receiving assignments here.
Hanban provides airfare as well as a monthly stipend for the selected teachers, with the participating school districts suppling housing with a host family, transportation to/from school and errands, health insurance and mentoring.
Volunteer teachers are permitted to teach four periods, allowing time for lesson plan preparation and other activities.
Metzger learned about the program while talking with ODE officials. A recent meeting in Columbus drew representatives from 100 school districts around the state interested in investigating and integrating Mandarin Chinese into their districts.
Some schools have no openings for new foreign language offerings. However, Marion Local is unique in that regard because the impending retirement of longtime English and German teacher Charlie Mescher will create an opening in the 2008-2009 school year.
Metzger also cited additional reasons why the program should be brought to Marion Local, which included:
• Students can learn authentic Chinese language and interact with a native Chinese speaker.
• The guest teacher can serve as a cultural resource in other subject areas.
• It prepares students for a changing, global economy.
Additionally, finding qualified foreign language teachers is becoming more difficult as education majors choose different areas of expertise, he said.
"This warrants our investigation," board member Tess Mescher said. Fellow board member Greg Garmann agreed, adding, "It certainly merits getting more information because there is time before making a decision."
There currently is no timeline for when the program would be offered to students.
Metzger plans to "test the waters" by explaining the proposed language program to parents and eighth-graders during an informational program prior to high school registration. The session will take place 7:30-8:30 p.m. Jan. 22 at the high school gym.
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