While hundreds rung in the Chinese Year of the Rabbit, GSD students participate in dual immersion for over a decadeMar 09, 2023 11:06AM ● By Carl Fauver
Hundreds of Chinese dual language immersion students and their parents gathered at Bennion Junior High to ring in the Year of the Rabbit. (Meredith Harker)
Last year was the Year of the Tiger– and next year will be the Year of the Dragon. In between, according to the Chinese Zodiac calendar, we are currently early on in the Year of the Rabbit.
While some of us don’t pay a lot of attention to those Ox, Rat, Monkey and Snake year designations, the change was center stage recently at Taylorsville’s Bennion Junior High School (6200 S. 2700 West), thanks to the hundreds of elementary, junior high and high school students throughout the city who participate in the Granite School District’s Chinese dual language immersion program.
“The evening was fantastic and such a great opportunity for the Chinese immersion students to showcase the activities and culture of China,” Taylorsville City Council Chairman Robert Knudsen said. “I saw kids trying the Chinese drums, doing calligraphy and offering wonderful dance displays. It was a lot of fun.”
Knudsen, fellow Councilperson Meredith Harker and Mayor Kristie Overson were among the several hundred people who attended the Year of the Rabbit celebration at the junior high.
“The auditorium was packed and it was so much fun to see parents and kids coming out to have a good time,” Overson said. “The show in the auditorium was just spectacular. Hearing the kids speaking in their dual immersion tongue was wonderful.”
Some 14 years ago, Granite School District introduced its dual language immersion program at several of its elementary, junior high and high schools. The program now features instruction in Spanish, French and Chinese. Spanish immersion is offered at nine elementary schools. But French and Chinese are taught at only two elementaries each.
Calvin Smith Elementary – just a few blocks east of Bennion Junior High, on 6200 South (2150 West) is one of those.
According to a Granite School District online informational video about dual immersion, the program is introduced to students at a very young age, in first grade, because “research shows the optimal time to learn another language is during the elementary years.” Calvin Smith Elementary students in the program split their days with English and Chinese speaking teachers.
Taylorsville City Councilwoman Harker has been an elementary school teacher since 1999, and at Calvin Smith for 10 years. Her third-grade class is one of those where pupils split their time between her and her Chinese dual immersion teaching partner, Lisa Williams, who was born and raised in China.
“My third graders study math, science and, of course, Chinese with Lisa, while I teach them the other subjects – English, reading, spelling and social studies,” Harker explained. “Then the subjects switch for our fourth and fifth grade classes. All five of our grades, after kindergarten, have two dual immersion classes, and two that are not dual immersion. So, overall, that’s about 250 of our students who are learning Chinese through the program (50 per grade, first through fifth).”
Growing up in China, Williams never planned to become an elementary school teacher – or to move to the United States. But she says, sometimes plans change.
“I lived in China until age 23; but my first husband was from Sandy (Utah),” Williams explained. “He came to my country to study Mandarin Chinese and we met in college. I went to college to study business. But after getting here, I met the parent of a Chinese dual immersion student. That’s when I first learned about the program and decided to become involved. The district allowed me to earn my teaching certificate while I was teaching. I’m in my eleventh year at Calvin Smith. It’s the only place I have ever taught.”
Because students start into the program at such a young age, most of them really don’t participate in the decision to get involved. That’s more of a “mom and dad call.”
That proved to be the case for two members of the Taylorsville Youth Council, who are each approaching the end of their 12-year runs through the Chinese dual immersion program. Junior Walker Christopherson is youth council Mayor and the son of former Taylorsville City Councilman Brad Christopherson. Meantime, the youth council’s Vice Chair is senior Maryn Seaman, who’s also Taylorsville High School’s World Languages Sterling Scholar. Just before press time, she advanced to the second round of that prestigious statewide competition.
“I was thrown into the Chinese program by my parents in first grade, because they wanted me to learn another language, so it might open more (career and opportunity) pathways,” Walker said. “I didn’t have a say in it, in the beginning. But I have pretty much liked it ever since. I’ve become great friends with so many of the students in my class. I have a younger sister and brother who are also now in the program.”
Christopherson still has a year of high school left, while Seaman will set out for Utah State University this fall. She already has definite plans to include her Chinese speaking skills in her future career.
“I am very interested in education,” Seaman said. “I want to either teach English-speaking kids Chinese, as I learned, or I could see myself teaching English to native Chinese-speaking students. I just know I definitely want to use my Chinese. My older brother, Tate, was in the very first Chinese dual immersion class. He graduated from Taylorsville High in 2021 and is now serving a Chinese-speaking (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) mission.”
Walker and Maryn both highly encourage parents to enroll their first graders in the Chinese dual immersion program. They each point out the worst-case scenario is their child may not take to the program – and can always drop out after a year or two. But parents will never know how well their kids could have done in dual immersion if they don’t start it.
Granite School District officials say, while it is not impossible for a student to join the dual immersion program – in Spanish, French or Chinese – after first grade, that later start is quite unusual. They say the decision is best made while youngsters are attending kindergarten.
As for the big Year of the Rabbit celebration, it was coordinated by Bennion Junior High Instructional Coach Mike Marcrum. His role at the school is to work with teachers to improve their instruction techniques. And just like Maryn and Walker, he encourages parents to let their first graders give dual immersion a chance.
“I have had students who weren’t particularly good at any given subject; but (participating in the dual immersion program) made them feel special – and they became stronger students,” Marcrum said. “Dual immersion is not perfect for all students. But I’m not opposed to any parents at least allowing their young students to try it, even if it turns out it’s not for them.”
The registration deadline for current kindergarteners to join the dual immersion program has already passed for this year. But if your child has still not started public school, you can learn all about the program at HYPERLINK "http://www.graniteschools.org" graniteschools.org.