Chinese classes are coming to even more Beaufort County schools this year.
A federal grant will allow the district to add courses for fifth- and sixth-graders at Robert Smalls Middle School, and Hilton Head Island Middle and High schools will share a full-time Chinese teacher.
The changes follow concern that the district's three-year old Chinese immersion program would lose funding. The program puts first- and second-graders at Broad River and Hilton Head Island elementary schools in classes taught in almost exclusively in Chinese.
Congress cut the $1.3 million, five-year federal grant that established the program, said Kate Olin, the grants coordinator with the district's instructional services department with the Beaufort County School District.
Instead, it will be funded this year with a one-time extension of about $125,000 from the grant Congress cut. Olin said the district has looked for ways tokeep the program running. The grant has paid for curriculum, supplies and teachers.
Despite less grant money, the program will expand as planned to include third-graders. Students who have participated in the program will be placed in third-grade classes taught half in Chinese and half in English, Olin said.
Kindergartners at Broad River Elementary will also be able to enroll in Chinese courses for the first time.
A grant from the Department of Defense of about $256,000 was secured to add the Chinese classes at Robert Smalls Middle.
According to the district, five new Chinese teachers will join the district's Mandarin language staff this year. More than 200 students are enrolled at the middle and high school level, Olin said, and more than 350 students are enrolled in Chinese classes district-wide.
Robert Smalls Middle principal Denise Smith said students will learn the basics in the new courses, which she hopes to start by the time school begins Aug. 20.
Ultimately, Smith said, the school wants to be ready when students from Broad River Elementary who have been enrolled in Chinese courses move up to Robert Smalls Middle. Olin said that of the 84 elementary students who took an international standardized Chinese language proficiency exam, 93 percent were able to understand and use common Chinese phrases and words.
"It's important that we begin now to make sure we are ready for those students," Smith said. "Like anything, you reflect once you do something, and ask how you can make it better and more effective. We want to get that under way here."
The school plans to offer seventh- and eighth-graders Chinese courses in the future, too.
Olin said more Chinese offerings are planned on Hilton Head Island, too, which is why Hilton Head Middle and High are adding courses this year. Those courses will be taught by a teacher whose salary isn't funded by grants, she said.
"Having written the original grants, and looking back three years later, it's really taken root in the district," Olin said. "For the team that works on this, it's really rewarding to see."
Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at twitter.com/HomeroomBft.
Some Beaufort County first-graders learn in English and Mandarin; Jan. 17, 2011Chinese immersion at Beaufort County elementary schools hits snag; Oct. 4, 2010