A trip to China changes a state’s ed­u­ca­tion

China Daily (Canada) - - PEOPLE - By QI­DONG ZHANG in San Fran­cisco kel­lyzhang@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

It all be­gan with a trip to China in 2006. As a re­sult, to­day 13,000 stu­dents in the state of Utah in grades K-12 speak Man­darin, the high­est ra­tio in the US pop­u­la­tion.

And the per­son who made that trip and then changed ed­u­ca­tion pro­foundly in Utah and po­ten­tially in the United States is Howard Stephen­son, a Utah state Se­na­tor since 1992.

“I was stunned by the higher knowl­edge level of the Chi­nese high school and col­lege stu­dents dur­ing my con­ver­sa­tions with them. Their dream for bet­ter life, their drive and am­bi­tion, their depth of world knowl­edge gave me such an im­pres­sion that as a state se­na­tor, I was deeply con­cerned about our ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem af­ter I talked to them,’’ said Stephen­son in a re­cent in­ter­view with China Daily.

“Our (Amer­i­can) chil­dren would never grow up and be­come world lead­ers if we do not take ini­tia­tive to learn other lan­guages and cul­tures im­me­di­ately, es­pe­cially Chi­nese lan­guage; and we as a coun­try would not sus­tain our world leader po­si­tion if our next gen­er­a­tion does not step up.’’

In 2008, Stephen­son pro­posed a bill to im­ple­ment dual lan­guage im­mer­sion (DLI) ed­u­ca­tion to teach Man­darin in Utah pub­lic schools. The Utah Leg­is­la­ture passed the bill and Gover­nor Jon Hunts­man Jr — who would serve as US am­bas­sador to China from 2009 to 2011 — signed it, mak­ing Utah the first state to fund such a pro­gram.

The In­ter­na­tional Ed­u­ca­tion Ini­tia­tive — Crit­i­cal Lan­guages Pro­grams pro­vide a to­tal of $270,000 for the dual lan­guage im­mer­sion pro­gram. It called for 50 per­cent of school day in­struc­tion in English and 50 per­cent in the tar­get lan­guage, be­gin­ning in kinder­garten or first grade with the in­ten­tion of adding one grade each year.

For the fall 2014, 118 pro­grams and 25,000 stu­dents are en­rolled in Chi­nese, French, Ger­man, Por­tuguese, and Span­ish im­mer­sion; Man­darin is among the top choices. The stu­dents study two lan­guages, ex­pos­ing them to two cul­tures and two per­spec­tives. Pro­grams be­gin in el­e­men­tary school with an ar­tic­u­la­tion of dual-lan­guage im­mer­sion con­tin­u­ing through univer­sity level stud­ies.

Ac­cord­ing to Stephen­son, the leg­is­la­ture ap­pro­pri­ated $120,000 ini­tially in 2007 for the Chi­nese lan­guage study for 20 pub­lic high schools statewide, about $6,000 for each, just enough to buy class­room ma­te­ri­als.

A 2013 study by the Utah state of­fice of ed­u­ca­tion shows that in 2009 there were 1,400 stu­dents in 25 DLI schools. In the cur­rent school year 2013-2014, 20,000 stu­dents are en­rolled in 98 DLI schools. Seven Utah uni­ver­si­ties have also part­nered with the state ed­u­ca­tion of­fice to help train fu­ture teach­ers of im­mer­sion.

Stephen­son is the mid­dle child of five in his fam­ily. He was raised by a sin­gle mother and grew up in south­ern ru­ral Utah. His fa­ther aban­doned the fam­ily when he was eight, leav­ing five chil­dren un­der the age of 11 and their mother with­out fi­nan­cial sup­port. The fam­ily of six lived in a two-bed­room apart­ment and his mother went back to col­lege. She ob­tained teach­ing cre­den­tials and be­came a sec­ond grade teacher to sup­port the chil­dren.

“I re­mem­ber my mom came home one day and asked all of us to leave the house. ‘I need a nap, a half hour of sleep so that I can be your mom again for the rest of the day,’ she said. So we all tip­toed out­side to give her some rest,” said Stephen­son, who praised his mother as “ex­tremely strong and an amaz­ing hu­man be­ing.”

Stephen­son de­cided that he wanted to be­come a state Se­na­tor when he was 13. Utah State Se­na­tor, 11th district Age: 64

• Mas­ter’s, pub­lic ad­min­is­tra­tion, Brigham Young Univer­sity BS, psy­chol­ogy and aero­space stud­ies, Brigham Young Univer­sity

“I hap­pened to hear Ron­ald Rea­gan speak­ing on tele­vi­sion when I was 13. He had a fundrais­ing video named A Time­forChoos­ing, a cam­paign fundraiser for a can­di­date who was run­ning for pres­i­dent. He ba­si­cally said that govern­ment should not do ev­ery­thing and should leave it for in­di­vid­u­als to en­joy their free­dom in cre­at­ing new ideas and businesses. That idea re­ally struck me and

• Amer­i­can Leg­isla­tive Ex­change Coun­cil, mem­ber Coun­cil of State Gov­ern­ments, mem­ber Dan­forth Foun­da­tion Pol­i­cy­mak­ers’ In­sti­tute, mem­ber be­came my be­lief too.”

With a BS in psy­chol­ogy and aero­space stud­ies and mas­ter’s in pub­lic ad­min­is­tra­tion from Brigham Young Univer­sity, Stephen­son’s first job and only job be­fore he en­tered pol­i­tics was at the Utah Tax­pay­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, a lob­by­ing group that seeks to per­suade the state leg­is­la­ture, lo­cal schools, coun­ties and cities to avoid tax in­creases. With a pas­sion to en­sure that tax­pay­ers get the full ben­e­fit for their tax dol­lars, es­pe­cially in ed­u­ca­tion, Stephen­son was elected a state Se­na­tor when he was 42, rep­re­sent­ing District 11, which in­cludes south­east Salt Lake and north­ern Utah coun­ties.

In 2007, Chi­nese Am­bas­sador to the US Yang Jiechi in­vited Stephen­son to Wash­ing­ton to wit­ness the con­tract sign­ing with the US Col­lege Board for cre­ation of a high school Ad­vanced Place­ment (AP) col­lege course in Chi­nese lan­guage and cul­ture.

“I was deeply hon­ored by the in­vi­ta­tion. The Chi­nese govern­ment has helped us so much since we ini­ti­ated the Chi­nese lan­guage pro­gram in Utah. To­day, 58 Chi­nese Han­ban teach­ers help teach in our state funded by the Chi­nese govern­ment, and our Chi­nese lan­guage learn­ing stu­dents ben­e­fit so much from these na­tive speak­ers,” said Stephen­son.

His el­dest son Dan Stephen­son, 37, an eco­nom­ics grad­u­ate of the Univer­sity of Utah who stud­ied and worked in China for nine years, now leads Zi Chi­nese Dual Lan­guage Im­mer­sion Foun­da­tion, a non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion. He aims to in­tro­duce statewide im­ple­men­ta­tion of this high­est qual­ity DLI pro­gram in the world to other states in the US through the foun­da­tion. His sec­ond son Andrew helps Dan at the foun­da­tion to en­gage other US state leg­is­la­tors to im­ple­ment the pro­gram.

The foun­da­tion was ini­ti­ated in April when 75 Chi­nese busi­ness lead­ers vis­ited the US, a del­e­ga­tion or­ga­nized by Shang­hai Jiao Tong Univer­sity’s Over­seas Ed­u­ca­tion Col­lege and Howard Stephen­son was in­vited to speak to them at a Philadel­phia meet­ing.

“Many of the Chi­nese busi­ness lead­ers were moved to tears when they saw a video I brought, show­ing young Utah chil­dren speak­ing flu­ent Man­darin”, Stephen­son said. “When I told them 13,000 Utah chil­dren are learn­ing Chi­nese lan­guage in Utah, Lin Zhong, chair­man of CIFI Group, stood up and gave an emo­tional tes­ti­mo­nial and pledged to do­nate $200,000 to fund the foun­da­tion so that Utah’s suc­cess can be copied to other states. Other busi­ness lead­ers also stood and pledged to sup­port the ef­fort.”

In part­ner­ship with Shang­hai Jiao Tong Univer­sity and sev­eral Chi­nese busi­ness lead­ers, the foun­da­tion will be hold­ing a kick­off event and fundraiser in Au­gust in Shang­hai.

More than 30 other states have re­viewed the Utah pro­gram and mul­ti­ple pro­grams are spring­ing up around the na­tion based on the Utah model. The Utah pro­gram’s de­sign and cur­ricu­lum ma­te­ri­als are used in states like Ari­zona, Idaho, Mon­tana and Wy­oming in the Rocky Moun­tains, to South Carolina and Ge­or­gia in the South, as well as in a ma­jor ini­tia­tive in Delaware and soon in Rhode Is­land.

“Amer­i­can chil­dren know what they are en­ti­tled to learn­ing to­day; they know they are like royalty when they are given the amaz­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to be bilin­gual. And I be­lieve over the next cou­ple of decades, we will rec­og­nize that mono-lin­gual­ism is the il­lit­er­acy of the 21st century, and if the US is go­ing to fo­cus on any lan­guage to be bilin­gual, it should be Man­darin Chi­nese. All we need to do is to tell other states’ leg­is­la­tors that it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money to im­ple­ment the pro­gram, and it’s not com­pli­cated to do it,” said Stephen­son.

A Mor­mon who has been taught to love all Gods’ chil­dren, and all hu­man be­ings are born equal, Stephen­son said his life’s phi­los­o­phy is to ex­tend that love to mankind in ev­ery way he can.

“What I be­lieve is very sim­i­lar to our found­ing fa­thers, that all men are cre­ated equal, and I want to do what I can to build love and re­la­tion­ships through com­mu­ni­ca­tions,’’ he said. “To­day it’s vi­tally im­por­tant that our coun­try has the best re­la­tion­ship in ev­ery way with China, eco­nom­i­cally, ed­u­ca­tion­ally, and cul­tur­ally. The only thing that will sep­a­rate us is ig­no­rance, the more we can over­come that ig­no­rance through com­mu­ni­ca­tion, the more we can cre­ate peace.”

Aim­ing to repli­cate what he did in Utah, which has 1 per­cent of the US pop­u­la­tion, Stephen­son said the ef­fort he is mak­ing will even­tu­ally change the scope of the US ed­u­ca­tion.

“We have 13,000 stu­dents speak­ing Man­darin in Utah and when the cur­rent DLI el­e­men­tary stu­dents grad­u­ate high school we will have more than 30,000. Imag­ine when we have 3 mil­lion (stu­dents) speak­ing Man­darin across the coun­try, copy­ing Utah’s DLI pro­gram suc­cess. It would con­nect the people of China and US in many ways cul­tur­ally and eco­nom­i­cally, most of all, pre­pare our chil­dren for a fu­ture global econ­omy.”


Utah State Se­na­tor Howard Stephen­son says it’s vi­tally im­por­tant that the US has the best re­la­tion­ship in ev­ery way with China, eco­nom­i­cally, ed­u­ca­tion­ally, and cul­tur­ally.

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