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The Chinese Track Three Years Later

Zăo shàng hăo! Guten morgen! As students and families enter the German International School, they are greeted by the words for “Good Morning!” in the two target languages of the school.

The Chinese Track at German International School is now in its third year, and growing strong. After Northwest Chinese Academy’s program merged into GIS in the summer of 2020 (for more information on how that happened during COVID-19 school closures, see this link) the program has grown more than 160% percent in terms of overall enrollment, broken all the initial targets set, and expanded its reach to students as young as two years old through Grade 5.

From an initial staff group of five in the Chinese Track, GIS now employs 15 full and part time Chinese Track staff, in addition to a Chinese Track Director. These individuals work closely in concert with the entire GIS staff team and community members to create a rich and supportive learning environment for students to learn Mandarin. In addition, students and staff are all exposed to another language and culture through collaboration with German track colleagues and classmates.

All classrooms from Preschool through Grade 5 are now working as part of an integrated cross-track team to plan units with their grade-level colleagues, led by an IB coordinator who speaks both German and Chinese fluently. Throughout the year, students are engaged in thematic explorations of the IB units in Mandarin, and integrated with sharing and exchanging their learnings and “Ahas!” with same grade counterparts in the German tracks.

One of the original seeds of the merger for both schools was to provide more friends for their students. “Intentional Integration” was coined in Year 1, a program to help support the transition to a healthy, mutually respectful, and supportive multilingual, multicultural community. Now in Year 3, students in both the Chinese and German tracks get the benefit of a low teacher student ratio–and more friends. At all levels, students in both tracks combine for recess and play times. In grade school, they take English, Music, and PE classes together, thus exposing them to a larger friend circle and opportunities to both connect over similarities and expand the range of cross-cultural and language opportunities. Classes at the same level are co-located so that students and teachers across tracks have more opportunities to interact.

In addition to a rigorous immersion program for their target language, students engage in a high-quality, in depth Specials program, including Nature and Gardening classes, Physical Education, and Music and Art taught in the target language for Early Learning and Grade School, respectively.

Staff regularly collaborate within track and across track to plan and share activities for their students that lead to more well-rounded educational experiences. In 2023, Lunar New Year was a multi-week, whole school celebration, featuring collaborative art projects, performances that included both tracks, and allowed the students, staff and families to celebrate the achievements, hard work, and fun that have happened so far. That was followed by Fasching, a German holiday (also more well known as Mardi Gras) that helped students understand the essence of celebrations of each of their target cultures and how celebrations help bring people together—this year, GIS feels strong and united as we look toward the next chapter of development and beyond.

In the works:

Curriculum work: Currently, the Chinese Track staff is working with Shuhan Wang, PhD to vertically integrate the proficiency levels and expected outcomes at all levels of the GIS Chinese track, which will be completed by the summer. Next year, we will continue to work on unit design, instructional practices, and the use of data to inform instruction. GIS also recently hired its own Curriculum Specialist, who is now reviewing and overseeing the development of both tracks’ Math curriculum.

Additional pathways to Chinese:

Fast Track: GIS started the Fast Track Program in 2022-23, which serves motivated students entering grades 1 through 3 with little to no Chinese (or German) skills. It is designed as a one-year accelerated program that embeds students in a language immersion classroom with individual or small group pull-out sessions to offer intensive language support.

Adult Class: GIS now offers a beginning Chinese class in an online format for adult learners.

Teen Class: GIS will be offering a weekly online class for graduates of intensive Mandarin immersion programs in the 2023-24 academic year to maintain and extend their fluency as they attend English language dominant programs. Details for the upcoming session will be updated soon!

GIS Chinese Track Staff Attendance at national conferences for Mandarin Immersion education:

-Early Childhood Chinese Immersion Forum 2023 (March 2023)

-National Chinese Language Conference (April 2023)

Community Partnerships:

-GIS tabled at Portland’s Lansu Garden’s Lunar New Year Festivities for 2023 and taught a Year of the Rabbit themed craft, following a successful tabling in 2022 teaching lucky Chinese knots

-GIS shared artwork from the Chinese Track grade school students at Washington Square’s 2023 Lunar New Year celebration, including a full-size lion dance head that Chinese Track 5th grade students made with their target language art teacher. GIS is pleased to offer art in the target language for students in grades 1-5.

-In Summer 2023, GIS will be the site of the STARTALK Mandarin Summer Camp for local students in Grades K-8, run by the Chinese Friendship Association of Portland.

-On March 31, GIS was delighted to hear that we were awarded a fully-funded teacher for the 2023-24 school year through the Teachers of Critical Languages Program (TCLP), one of several U.S. Department of State initiatives that support U.S. youth, students, teachers, and professors in learning critical world languages through instruction in the United States and abroad. Since 2006, the program has sponsored 353 teachers of Arabic and Mandarin. These teachers have contributed to developing and existing critical need language programs at the elementary and secondary level in 42 different U.S. states and the District of Columbia. The teacher will support students and colleagues in the Chinese Track, work on curriculum development, and perform regular outreach about Chinese language and culture within GIS and to the greater Portland community.

GIS will hold new Board elections in Fall 2024, and we look forward to increasing representation from Chinese Track families and leaders in the local AAPI community. Stay tuned!

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