|Commissioner Kristin Hesselbacher in Classroom|
|Middle School Students greeting us in Dalian|
The School District of Janesville won three national awards last year. One of those awards was for having one of the best Chinese language programs in the country. Credit for instituting Mandarin Chinese in the School District of Janesville goes to a previous board that had the foresight to think futuristically beyond the confines of typical and ordinary and include a language our students will need in the future. Some of our current board members were on that board. Mandarin Chinese is spoken by over a billion people in the world more than any other language. Mandarin Chinese is not only spoken in China, but it is the official language of Mainland China and Taiwan, and one of the official languages of Singapore and the United Nations. Mandarin is also spoken in many of the Overseas Chinese communities throughout the world. There are an estimated 40 million Overseas Chinese, mostly in Asian countries (about 30 million), but also in the Americas (6 million), Europe (2 million), Oceania (1 million) and Africa (100,000). It is the fastest growing language in the world. If China continues to grow and becomes the largest economy in the world, which it is predicted to become, the language will become even more prevalent.
Let me banish a myth – not everyone in the world speaks English and not everyone in China speaks English. That is simply not true and was not my experience while traveling there. I believe the best way to know a people is to know their language.
As we finished our final days in Beijing, I have a new awareness and appreciation for China and its connectedness to our country and to Janesville, Wisconsin. The people I encountered there are warm, generous and engaging. Our group visited several schools. We sat across the table from children, students of all ages, teachers and administrators who are typically over 6,000 miles away from us who have the same hopes and dreams for their children as we do for ours. They are eager to know us and learn from us. They also have much to teach us. China is now the second largest economy, second largest exporter and a manufacturing machine that has lifted 500 million people from poverty while producing more than 1 million U.S. dollar millionaires in a very short period of time.
I am more convinced now than before I left on this journey that we must continue to teach and give opportunities to our students to be competitive in the global workforce. There are over 373 Confucius classrooms in the United States. Confucius classrooms are run by the College Board and supports development of k-12 Chinese language programs in the U.S. by providing guidance to school districts embarking on the journey of teaching Mandarin Chinese. There were 400 educators from across the United States that journeyed to China with Kristin and me. Partnerships are being forged all over the world. Students are taking advantage of these opportunities in a new and revitalized way.
It is important that we help our students in the School District of Janesville to become globally competitive. They may choose to work here in our community or they may seek employment elsewhere, but as the world continues to flatten it will be important for them to have the needed skills to not only to be highly employable, but to contribute to society.
At the end of this month a group from our school district will be visiting Oxford, Michigan to study their International High School. I have been in contact with Superintendent William Schilling and read about the Oxford School District in journal articles and in a book. The Oxford School District has been very successful attracting students to their district on an international level. I am looking carefully at our own International School (Janesville Academy for International Studies) and the next steps needed to be taken to promote its growth and also the growth of our district in accordance with the Board of Education’s goals. Those visiting this school with me include Dr. Steve Sperry, Director of Administrative and Human Services; Dr. Kim Ehrhardt, Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment, Dr. Bob Smiley, Chief Information Officer; Jane Thompson, Dean of Students of the Janesville Academy for International Studies (JAIS); Jose Carillo, President of the JAIS board, and School District of Janesville Board Commissioners Bill Sodemann and Scott Feldt. There will be more information posted in the days and weeks to come. Employees and community members with an interest in serving on a steering committee to further explore next steps on our international project please e mail me.
|University Students with Commissioner Hesselbacher and Dr. Schulte|