By Evangeline Cafe
Northwest Asian Weekly
For more than half their lives, fifth grade students at Beacon Hill International School have been working tirelessly to achieve cross-cultural awareness.
As kindergartners, the children became the first group to participate in the school’s Mandarin Immersion Program, where they spend half of each school day learning certain core subjects, such as math and science, entirely under Mandarin instruction.
Even though practically none of the students speak Mandarin at home, they have excelled on state standardized tests and can use the language outside of class.
“Sometimes I’ll hear people speaking Chinese on the street, and I’ll just go up to them and say, ‘Hi, how are you?’ in Chinese,” said fifth-grader Delaney Blanford, 10. “It’s so fun to see the looks on their faces. They are very surprised!”
Fifth-grader Nat Beaumon, 10, says his teachers make the students work for their success.
“Our Chinese teachers make us work hard; we can’t slack off. We actually work hard, and that’s really helped out a lot,” he said.
Over the past two years, the students have been putting their language skills to use by exchanging letters in Mandarin with pen pals at Renmin Rongqiao Primary School, a sister school in Chongqing, China, in hopes of one day traveling to China to meet them in person.
“I think it’s going to be very interesting to see how they live,” Delaney said. “I think we’re also going to visit their school, so I’m really excited about that, too.”
Students, parents and teachers hope to make that trip a reality for all the fifth-graders in their last year of the program, but they worry that financial barriers may keep as many as ten students behind.
Beacon Hill International School is a high poverty school with more than half of its students coming from low-income families. About 40 percent of the fifth graders in the Mandarin Immersion program come from families that live below the poverty level.
“Almost half of the class qualifies for free and reduced lunch, and they’re not in a position to afford an international trip like this, even though their kids have all worked very hard together,” said Nat’s mother, Flo Beaumon, who is on the fundraising committee for the fifth graders’ trip to Chongqing.
Students and parents have held fundraisers such as selling homemade Chinese dumplings at a school bazaar. But the fundraisers won’t be enough, they say. Flo Beaumon has been asking businesses and organizations to chip in.
Organizers estimate that the cost of the trip per child will be about $2,500, which will consist mostly of airfare. The students will likely be doing homestays with families in Chongqing to keep costs down.
About 18 students from the sister school in Chongqing visited the students in Seattle in September, which gave the students a chance to meet some of their pen pals. But organizers still think the students deserve to realize their dream of making their own trip to China.
“By going to China, the kids will see that they have worked really hard and will experience the success from their work. They’ll also be able to see some opportunities for themselves that may be out there for them in the future. Going there to experience it as children is really going to make these opportunities real and concrete in their eyes,” Flo Beaumon said.
“Since we’ve been together for so long, we don’t want to leave anybody out of it,” Nat Beaumon said.
Fourth and fifth grade teacher Vivian Li said that going to China before they leave Beacon Hill International School, an elementary K-5 school, has been a dream for her students since they started the program.
“Since they were in kindergarten, we teachers and parents have been telling the children, ‘Let’s do this, because one day if you go to China, you’re going to benefit from this,’” Li said.
The students, parents, and teachers hope business and other community members will see value in the Mandarin Immersion Program and how it not only enriches the lives of students, but how it benefits society as a whole.
“My kids in my classroom, they don’t just speak the language; they know the culture. They know what is the appropriate way to interact with this person or that person based on their cultural background,” Li said.
“These kids now will have an opportunity to be able to speak with 1.4 billion people. They’ll have incredible educational opportunities ahead of them; they will have employment opportunities ahead of them. They will have an international orientation, which I think is really important towards world peace and towards making an economy that lifts everybody up,” said Flo Beaumon.
Delaney Blanford also said that knowing Mandarin will benefit her greatly in the future.
“I want to be a world traveling reporter. I think that will be pretty helpful,” she said.
Even though Li’s students credit their teachers with the success of the program, she gives full credit to her kids.
“The reason why they are so successful is that they work really hard. They are extremely motivated and really focused,” she said.
“There is a miracle happening every day in education. The program is great,” she said. “I feel really honored to be part of it.” (end)
For more information on how to donate to the students’ trip to China, visit the Beacon Hill International School at http://beaconhilles.seattleschools.org. Donations may be made online by clicking on the PTA fundraising link.
Evangeline Cafe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.