Chinese immersion at Beaufort County elementary schools hits snag

The arrival of two instructors from China who will help launch partial immersion programs in Mandarin is being delayed as the Beaufort County School District wrangles with the state Department of Education and other agencies.

The district received grants this summer to bring Chinese teachers to two international baccalaureate elementary schools this year: Hilton Head IB and Broad River. However, their contracts haven't been approved because of complicated visa, teacher-certification and other legal issues, said Sean Alford, the district's instructional services chief.

Those issues could be settled as soon as today in a conference call with lawyers for the state and other nonprofit and international agencies involved with the district in developing the program, Alford said.

Two teachers already are prepared to come and probably would arrive within 10 days after their contracts are approved, Alford added. They will live with host families while in Beaufort County.

"Everything that could have been an issue has been," Alford said. "But it hasn't deterred us."

He said the state Department of Education is reviewing transcripts and certifications the teachers earned in China to make sure they are qualified to work in South Carolina classrooms, even though they would teach with a state-certified elementary teacher at each school.

Broad River and Hilton Head IB schools each have one class of first-graders participating in the Mandarin immersion program. In immersion programs, students study other subjects, such as math or social studies, in the target language.

The classes now are working with an aide who lives on Hilton Head and has taught Chinese before. She teaches two days a week at each school, Alford said.

An institution affiliated with the Chinese Ministry of Education is paying the salaries for the two teachers from China. The school district received a separate $1.3 million federal grant to use over five years to support teaching Mandarin in local schools.