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Saturday, November 02, 2002


Whilst parents all across Europe are still struggling to convince their children that learning English could be good for them, and whilst the EU politicians still wrangle about ways to find a common language for Europeans, one group of black parents in New York could be pointing the way to the future:

Paul and Denise Gamble have never been to China, and they were never particularly interested in its language or culture. Yet their two school-age children attend Shuang Wen Academy, a public school on the Lower East Side where much of the day is spent learning Mandarin. Their children are part of an unexpected phenomenon at the four-year-old school: while most are children of Chinese immigrants, almost 10 percent of the students are black, and many of them come from the outer reaches of the city, enduring long trips for the chance to attend a school that has developed a reputation for excellence.

Shuang Wen is one of more than 150 small public schools established in the late 1990's as an alternative to larger, impersonal public schools. The school, whose name means dual language in Chinese, has many teachers who believe in dual-language education, and its goal is to teach students Mandarin and Chinese culture. Although only two of the school's first class of 45 students were not of Chinese descent, Shuang Wen gradually gained a reputation among some of the city's black middle-class parents for being nurturing yet rigorous. In last spring's citywide third-grade math and English tests, Shuang Wen ranked third in math and 23rd in English among the city's almost 1,000 elementary schools. Now, before the start of every school year, more and more black parents arrive at the office of the principal, Ling-Ling Chou, seeking admission for their children to the prekindergarten class — which is based on interviews with prospective students and their parents. They are undeterred by the fact that their children will be among the few non-Asians in the school, or that Mandarin is famously difficult to master. Chinese instruction runs from 3 to 5:30 p.m. daily. All subjects, however, are taught in both languages.
Like many of the black parents of Shuang Wen students, Ms. Gamble, Ms. Fouché-Channer and Ms. Smith are from the West Indies, and that is not a coincidence, they said. "Shuang Wen reminded us of the kind of schools we know from home," said Ms. Fouché-Channer, explaining that schools in Trinidad, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic are often strict and orderly, like Shuang Wen is. The Chinese parents are generally enthusiastic about the school's ethnic mix. "The black kids are really nice, and they showed my kids the way when they were new at the school," Christine Chuah, who has two children at Shuang Wen, said in Chinese. "They are seriously interested in learning Chinese, and we like that." The teachers, mostly Chinese-Americans or recent immigrants from Taiwan and China, have embraced the non-Asian children as well, offering them extra help with Mandarin.
Source: New York Times

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