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Readin,’ writin’ and ... Chinese?

Chinese might just shake up local school curriculum.

The language is a definite possibility for some Knox County high school students as early as next year, said Sharon Fishbach, foreign language coordinator for Knox County Schools System.

After teaching Latin at Farragut High School for 20 years, Fishbach is in China visiting elementary and high schools and networking with Chinese educators. She is among 250 teaching professionals from across the country who are visiting China this week. The group, called The American-Chinese Bridge, is accompanied by about 50 interpreters, officers with the College Board, and representatives of other organizations. All 300 are visiting on the Chinese government’s dime.

“The goal is, if all this works well, we’d like to start a Chinese program here in Knox County Schools,” Fishbach said. “It doesn’t happen overnight.”

“It’s in the works for Chinese to become an A-P class,” she added. “I think it will next year.”

Fishbach said The College Board, a non-profit entity, has agreed simply to help the U.S. and China in their educational goals.

“It really is by popular demand that schools all across the country are saying: ‘We’d like to have Chinese,’” she said.

Fishbach said Nashville started a pilot Chinese program last year in cooperation with Vanderbilt University.

“They had it in one school,” she said. “Of course we want to be the first and the best. We won’t make it to first, but we might make it to best. I expect the principals to compete over who gets it. The first year it will most likely be in just one school … It will take a serious student to sign up for this class.

“Just last year the Tennessee Department of Education adopted an approved Chinese curriculum. I hope to come back with practical knowledge about how we can begin to institute Chinese as one of the languages offered in Knox County Schools, what factors should be taken into consideration, and how we can best proceed. Specifically, the primary challenge in offering Chinese is finding qualified teachers.”

Last week Fishbach said she would be staying in a five-star hotel with Internet connections, five restaurants, pools, etc. Most of the time the group will be in Beijing.

One day will be spent visiting an elementary and high school. The next day they will visit a teacher’s college — Bejing Normal University. The group will be the honored guests of the government at a reception, dinner and gala at the People’s Congress Hall. “We’ll be able to go to the Great Wall and the Forbidden City,” she said.

“We have not decided to institute a Chinese language program in Knox County, but I am certainly interested in exploring our options in this area,” the superintendent said.


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