For one lucky group of Kindergarteners at Pinecrest Elementary, each school day ends with a trip halfway across the globe to China. The 20-or-so students are part of a unique extended-day Mandarin program making it’s way through Pinecrest schools that begins, quite literally, with them.
Thanks to a partnership between the Confucius Institute (a nonprofit public educational organization) and Miami Dade Public Schools, students at Pinecrest, along with Palmetto Middle School and Palmetto High School, are able to add Mandarin Chinese to their language study. “It’s linear,” says Pinecrest Elementary Principal Lynn Zaldua, who praises the program for blending a study of not just language, but culture as well. “The hope is that they will start here and then continue on to Palmetto Middle School and Palmetto Senior High School.” Adding to the inclusive nature of the program is the fact that all classes are currently taught by Miami-Dade Schools educator Chung Bing Wang, who splits his time between the three schools.
Parents of incoming Kindergarten students were given the option to enroll over the summer, with a first-come, first-enrolled policy, set up as a result of a time crunch. “We got the green light two weeks before school started,” says Zaldua, who was “honored and excited” to welcome Wang. Parents, as well, were thrilled about the offering. “We feel exposing our daughter to a third language at a young age can only be beneficial,” says Cristy De Angulo, whose five-year-old is enrolled in the course. “Kate is at an age where she can more readily pick up Mandarin, and, we love the idea of her learning about another culture.” The verdict so far? “She loves it,” says De Angulo. “Mr. Wong makes learning Mandarin fun and exciting by teaching them songs, and incorporating art in daily class activities.”
During the extended-day program, the students are brought to Wang at the normal Kindergarten 1:50 dismissal, where he allows them a quick snack before beginning the lessons. They are released to parents at the 3:05 dismissal alongside the second-through-fifth grade classes. On a recent visit to the brightly colored classroom (resplendent with dragons and Chinese alphabet characters) students were all smiles while practicing a Chinese song and reciting letters and numbers. “It’s amazing how much they are learning,” says Zaldua. “The collaboration between everyone has been really great.”