Chinese classes gain popularity at Scottsbluff schools

Scottsbluff students and chaperone Brooke Elley-Talkington visit Tiananmen Square in Beijing during a trip to China this summer. The trip was sponsored by the Confucius Institute at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

SCOTTSBLUFF, Neb. — Enrollment in Chinese language classes has surpassed expectations in the Scottsbluff Public Schools.

The Scottsbluff district has the most students participating in Chinese classes in the state, said Charles Wood, director of the Confucius Institute at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The classes were made possible through a partnership with the institute.

Scottsbluff has offered Chinese as a language option since the 2011-12 school year, and more sections and levels of the language have been added as more students have enrolled.

This year, 50 high school students and 51 middle school students are taking Chinese. A new Chinese-language teacher was hired last year at the middle school to meet demand.

"Scottsbluff Schools are progressive in the way of helping expand pathways for unique opportunities of learning and that has really been stepped up," said Matt Huck, assistant principal at Scottsbluff High School.

In the first three years of the program, one teacher taught all of the Chinese classes in the district. Now Rose Lu teaches at the high school and Hunter Shen is at the middle school.

Shen teaches beginning Chinese using the Total Physical Response method of teaching, in which he teaches using gestures and body language.

He said the method helps students internalize the language in their own way. He talks to the students and asks them personalized questions that makes the language fun to learn.

"I enjoy teaching here," Shen said. "The students are very smart and active."

He said there are some differences between teaching in China and in the United States. American students are more talkative and sometimes doubt and even correct teachers.

"Teachers in the U.S. can waste a lot of time in classroom management if they don't attract the attention of the students," Shen said.

The classes also give students opportunities to go to China through the Chinese Bridge Summer Camp sponsored by the Confucius Institute. The trips last 16 to 18 days, and students participate in a learning program as well as travel around China. Huck said the students can immerse themselves in the culture.

Five students participated this summer. Huck said Scottsbluff teachers also take part in the trips as chaperones.

The classes are available at a minimal cost to the school district. The teachers are mostly paid by the Confucius Institute and Hanban government in China.

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