Beaufort County schools face challenges expanding Chinese immersion program

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comFebruary 2, 2014 


In this file photo from 2011, Teacher Weiying Jin, known as Ms. Cathy to her students and fellow teachers, leads her class of first graders in their Mandarin Chinese class at Hilton Head Island International Baccalaureate Elementary School.

FILE — File Buy Photo

  • Schools with immersion programs

    There are four schools in South Carolina with a Chinese language immersion program:

    • Hilton Head Island Elementary
    • Broad River Elementary in Burton
    • East Point Academy in the S.C. Public Charter School District
    • Midway Elementary in Lexington 1 School District

    Source: S.C. Department of Education

The Beaufort County School District would double the size of its Chinese language immersion program right away if it could, but a state regulation stands in the way.

The school district has two immersion programs, at Hilton Head Island and Broad River elementary schools, and would like to add others. However, superintendent Jeffrey Moss said that would be too expensive.

That's because a South Carolina law requires that a state certified teacher always be in the classroom. The problem, Moss said, is that the teachers for the program are Chinese nationals who don't have state teaching certificates. They are certified teachers in China, but not in South Carolina, he said.

"So what we are having to do right now is hire another teacher to be in the room who really just sits there and observes," Moss said. "Sound like a little waste of dollars to you?"

The district's Project CLIMB, which stands for Critical Language Initiative in Mandarin in Beaufort, was started in 2010. Students learn in two different languages during the school day, which is split to provide content in English for half of the day and Chinese for the other half.

The Chinese teachers for the program come to the district through a partnership with The College Board. There currently are 10 immersion teachers in the district, and they earn $30,000 to $49,000, district spokesman Jim Foster said. The "teachers of record" in the classroom also earn a regular teacher's salary, chief administrative and human resources officer Alice Walton said.

School board member Geri Kinton, co-chairwoman of the Curriculum and Instruction Committee, said the requirement to have a certified teacher in the classroom is unnecessary for this program.

"When you have a qualified teacher, you don't want them sitting in a classroom assisting," she said. "Especially when they can't even really assist because they don't know the language and can't tell whether the students understand the material."

Several schools -- including Hilton Head middle and high school and Robert Smalls Middle School -- offer Chinese classes. But the law does not require a second teacher in those classrooms because the Chinese teachers are teaching only the language, not core curricula.

The College Board partners with school districts to provide these programs around the state and country. However, South Carolina is one of the only states that has such a regulation, Kinton said. She learned that on a recent College Board-sponsored trip to China with district officials from other states.

Moss said the district will begin working with the state Department of Education to find a solution -- possibly a waiver that would make the Chinese teachers the teachers of record.

State Department of Education spokesman Dino Teppara said a solution would have to come from the legislature and the state Board of Education.

Kinton said expanding the language immersion program would create more options for parents and students as the district works to grow its programs of choice throughout the county.

"I know the students really seem to love this program," she said. "We do need to figure this out because I really feel a language program enhances overall learning, and if we have to double our resources, it won't only be difficult to expand the program but just to maintain it."

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