Sign-up under way for first Chinese class at Willmar Senior High

WILLMAR -- Mollie Clark has an economic interest in taking the first-year Mandarin Chinese class at Willmar Senior High. "I was really interested in learning about the food," the high school senior said. "I plan on owning my own restaurant someda...

WILLMAR -- Mollie Clark has an economic interest in taking the first-year Mandarin Chinese class at Willmar Senior High.

"I was really interested in learning about the food," the high school senior said. "I plan on owning my own restaurant someday." She also wants to learn more about Chinese art and culture.

Clark is one of 18 students who have signed up so far for the class, which will begin Jan. 16 and continue through the end of the school year. With Willmar's four-class-a-day block schedule, a two-term class covers the same material as a year-long class in a traditional high school schedule.

The class will be offered with the help of a $127,600 grant from the federal Foreign Language Assistance Program. School officials have said the Chinese class will not have any impact on funding for the school's established programs in Spanish and French.

The Rev. Todd Lynum, pastor at the Svea Lutheran Church, will teach the class. He majored in Chinese in college and has taken some education classes, though he is not a certified teacher. The district is allowed to hire him as a community expert to teach the Chinese class.


"I'm having a lot of fun preparing for it," Lynum said. He's reviewing class materials and has chosen textbooks and workbooks, which will be ordered from China soon.

Students who want to take the Chinese class have worked with their guidance counselors to rearrange schedules and drop classes. In many cases, it hasn't been a problem. In a few, it's been impossible.

"Some classes are not movable," said counselor Sharon Tollefson. A particular problem for some students has been that the Choralaires girls' choir meets at the same time.

"Sometimes they have to make tough choices," said counselor Kristy Maher.

For younger students, the chance to study Chinese will come again next year, when the grant funding will be used to offer first-year and second-year classes.

For seniors like Clark, Jasmine Infante and Katherine Thorp, this will be their only chance to study Chinese in high school.

All three said they had to drop some electives to register for Chinese, but they didn't mind doing it.

"There are a lot of Asians in our nation," Infante said. "I could talk to them instead of just saying, 'Hi.'" Her family thinks the class could help her in college and open doors for her later, she said.


Thorp said she remembers hearing students talk about the informal after-school class Lynum taught last spring. She thought it sounded interesting, but it conflicted with her work schedule.

In the class, they will learn to speak Chinese and to write with Chinese characters, Lynum said. They'll discuss art, culture, music and food. They'll have a chance to celebrate the Chinese New Year in early February.

Asked if there would be food tasting, Lynum smiled and said, "I think it would be a shame not to."

Lynum told the students that Chinese grammar is simple, and there is a system to the formation of the characters. "Little Chinese kids can learn it, so why can't we," he said.

"I think Chinese is probably going to become the world language," Clark said, and "it's going to be beneficial to businesses" to hire people who understand Chinese.

Interest in the class has been strong, counselors said.

Interested students could continue to rearrange their schedules up until the middle of January. The third term classes begin on Jan. 16.

"We had 10 to 15 students down within the first week" to register for the class, said counselor Leah Oestreich.


If the number of students eventually grows into the 30s, the grant funding would allow for a second section, said Senior High Principal Rob Anderson.

Anderson said he is pleased with the interest in the class and with Lynum's enthusiasm for it.

"You take a passionate teacher for any subject area, and good things happen with kids," he said.


Students in other area school districts are studying Chinese this year, too.

A handful of students in Benson and Montevideo schools started a first-year Chinese class this fall, using a link over an interactive data network. The teacher for the class is in St. Paul, said Pete Royer of the Little Crow Telemedia Network.

The network also provides classes in French, German, Spanish and American Sign Language.

Since the details of the arrangement for Chinese classes were not final until after students had registered for this year's classes last spring, enrollment is fairly low this year, Royer said. The network has already received requests for next year, when a second-year Chinese class will be added to the offerings.


"We expect it to take off," he said.

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