Hillsboro schools host Confucius Institute teachers


How easy is it to teach fourth-graders to count?

In Wandan Chen’s classroom at Hillsboro’s Jackson Elementary School, it’s as easy as yi, er, san, si, wu — for those who don’t speak Mandarin Chinese, that’s one-two-three-four-five.

Photo Credit: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: KATHY FULLER - Wandan Chen points out to Jackson School Elementary students where she lives in Changsha, Hunan Province, China.

Chen is teaching Chinese language, culture and art to students in all grades at Jackson Elementary this year as a part of the Confucius Institute cultural exchange program.

"Confucius Classrooms" is administered by Portland State University’s Confucius Institute and is intended to expose students in the U.S. to Chinese language and culture and develop positive cross-cultural attitudes and behavior

The institute was established in 2007, a collaboration between PSU’s Office of International Affairs and the China National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language.

And after a half-hour with a classroom full of fourth-graders, she had them not only counting to five, but reading the Mandarin words, practicing the basics of Chinese calligraphy and saying “Hello” and “Goodbye.”

Chen had a helper in fourth-grader Draren Teel, who already knew a few words in Chinese before he walked into Chen’s class.

“Come on up here. We have another Chinese teacher,” Chen said to Teel. He promptly popped up, walked to the front of the room and began teaching his classmates to count.

“My family was in the Philippines, then we went to China to visit my grandma and grandpa,” Teel said, and that’s where he picked up his Chinese language skills.

Chen arrived in Oregon Sept. 19 and began teaching last week.

Jackson is one of two schools in the Hillsboro School District with Confucius Institute teachers. Across town, Luo Hong is teaching at Ladd Acres Elementary. Both women are teachers in China, and will live with a host family and teach at their respective school through June 2015.

Chen hails from Changsha, the capital and the largest city of the Hunan Provide in south-central China. There, she teaches third- through sixth-grades, where she moves up along with her students as they advance through the grades.

So far, she’s found the students at Jackson very eager to learn.

“The kids like it very much,” Chen said of her experience so far, sitting in her classroom decorated with maps of China, plenty of Chinese calligraphy and colorful paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling.

“The teachers are excited, too,” said Principal Kathi Robinson. Chen said most teachers stayed for the lessons during her first week.

She plans to start an after-school club soon, where students can learn the art of Chinese paper cutting, calligraphy and more about the Chinese culture, including food and music.

Although the Confucius Classrooms are not part of the school district’s dual language program, they share the same goals of promoting knowledge of world languages as an asset and providing multicultural experiences to students, staff, parents and community.