Hous­ton stu­dents have pas­sion for Chi­nese study

China Daily (USA) - - ACROSS AMERICA - By CHINA DAILY in Hous­ton Tif­fany Wang in Hous­ton con­trib­uted to this story.

To a group of stu­dents in Hous­ton al­ready flu­ent in English and Span­ish, study­ing Chi­nese just made sense.

The North­side cam­pus of YES Prep, which opened in 2011, is part of a net­work of public char­ter schools that serve col­lege-bound stu­dents from low­in­come back­grounds. Many of the stu­dents come from Span­ish-speak­ing fam­i­lies.

Matt Neal, the found­ing di­rec­tor of YES Prep North­side, re­called build­ing the pro­gram and choos­ing Chi­nese over Span­ish.

“To stu­dents who al­ready speak English and Span­ish, learn­ing Chi­nese means they are able to speak to most of the world,” he ex­plained on Satur­day dur­ing a school fundraiser for a stu­dent trip to China.

Neal re­cruited the stu­dents, who are now in ad­vanced place­ment (AP) Chi­nese. He went to their houses per­son­ally in 2011 and con­vinced their par­ents to send their chil­dren to YES Prep.

“There isn’t a sin­gle stu­dent in the found­ing class where I didn’t sit on their couch and meet their dog and their abuelita (grand­mother in Span­ish) and just say, ‘Look, I know this sounds far-fetched’ but if you take this leap of faith, your child will have a leg up.

“The North­side is a part of town that has a lot of his­tory, but there is a lot of gen­er­a­tional poverty,” he said. “Many fam­i­lies have been here for a long time and for whom get­ting out of Hous­ton, get­ting out of Texas, even get­ting out of North­side is not a big part of their ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Al Castillo, one of the AP Chi­nese stu­dents, vis­ited Suzhou and Shang­hai for six weeks last sum­mer with the help of the US State Depart­ment.

“It was won­der­ful,” she said. “I was just as­ton­ished by the en­tire trip. I got to learn more about Chi­nese cul­tures and life­styles from liv­ing with a host fam­ily. Although I am fin­ish­ing AP, next year I might con­tinue tak­ing Chi­nese lessons on my own.”

“This is the first at­tempt at es­tab­lish­ing a tra­di­tion where these stu­dents can fi­nally have the op­por­tu­nity to see the things they are learn­ing about,” said Xiao­han Tang, one of their Chi­nese teach­ers.

On Satur­day, around 35 guests con­sist­ing of friends and fam­ily en­joyed Chi­nese food, lion danc­ing, guzheng, erhu, Chi­nese flute, singing and a per­for­mance of But­ter­fly Lovers by a group of North­side found­ing stu­dents.

The stu­dents learn­ing Chi­nese range from grades eight to 11, and the lev­els in­clude Chi­nese 1, 2, 3 and ad­vanced place­ment (AP). YES Prep-North­side plans to send 10 stu­dents in ad­vanced Chi­nese classes to Bei­jing, Shang­hai and Suzhou. It costs $3,000 per stu­dent.

Al­li­son Mat­tingly, the di­rec­tor of col­lege coun­sel­ing at YES Prep North­side and the or­ga­nizer of Satur­day’s event, said it was the school’s first at­tempt at help­ing its ad­vanced Chi­nese stu­dents visit China.

“When this cam­pus was founded, it was based on a prom­ise that if stu­dents pur­sued Chi­nese ver­sus Span­ish, know­ing that it’s a much more chal­leng­ing path, we would plan a trip to China, and that they would have the op­por­tu­nity to ac­tu­ally go and ex­pe­ri­ence China,” she said.

Although the fundrais­ing goal of $30,000 has not been met, Tang is con­fi­dent that the school will send its stu­dents to China through fu­ture fundrais­ers.

It was won­der­ful. I was just as­ton­ished by the en­tire trip.” Al Castillo, North­side YES Prep stu­dent who vis­ited China

TIF­FANY WANG / FOR CHINA DAILY

Au­di­ence watches the lion dance at YES Prep North­side’s fundrais­ing event on Satur­day in Hous­ton.

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