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Willmar receives five-year grant for Chinese program

WILLMAR -- The Mandarin Chinese program at Willmar Senior High has received a five-year classroom grant from the Confucius Institute at the University of Minnesota.

The Willmar School District had applied for a one-year grant to help support the program but High School Principal Rob Anderson was notified this week that it was extended for five years.

It's almost unheard of to apply for one year of grant funding and to receive five years instead.

"I can't tell you how many times I read that letter," Anderson said, chuckling about his disbelief when he received notification on Thursday. He said he even took it home that evening and had his wife read it, to make sure he hadn't misunderstood.

"This is fantastic, most of all for our kids," he said.

The grant "makes it more likely we will continue to offer Chinese," said Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard. "I really feel great for our kids." The grant will support the program at least until 2014, he said.

Anderson said he'd received notification in August that the Confucius Institute had approved a one-year grant for $45,100 and that an agreement would be sent later.

This week, an agreement arrived with a letter that explained the changes made in the award.

The full dollar amount over five years is not known. Anderson said the district would submit a new budget proposal each year.

There are some requirements of the grant. The program will be a partner with the Confucius Institute, which will help Willmar Senior High establish a partnership with a school in China. That relationship is likely to include electronic communication and joint projects, Anderson said.

The school will also be part of a network of schools sharing best practices information through the University of Minnesota.

"We're glad to agree," Anderson said. School district officials signed the agreement Friday morning.

The director of the Confucius Institute told him that the Chinese government agency promoting international study had said it wanted classroom grants to be for five years, to encourage continuity and sustainability.

This is the latest honor for the Willmar Chinese program, which started the school year with a native Chinese teacher, Bai Jinguo, working with instructor Todd Lynum. Willmar is one of 10 high schools in the nation to host a Chinese teacher for the school year through a U.S. State Department program.

The Confucius Institute brought a documentary film crew to Willmar early this year so they could film in a Mandarin Chinese class in a rural area.

Anderson said he thinks the program's previous involvement with the Confucius Institute and its hosting a Chinese teacher may have helped it qualify for the five-year grant, too.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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