Houston students have passion for Chinese study
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
Audience watches the lion dance at YES Prep Northside’s fundraising event on Saturday in Houston.