Chinese school provides valuable opportunities for students of all ages

December 11, 2018 — by Kaitlyn Tsai

As the clock strikes 9:20 a.m., the chime of a handheld bell rings through the crisp Saturday morning. Across the Saratoga High campus, dozens of children hurry to their classrooms.

Some, clutching their parents’ hands, struggle to keep up as their little legs carry them as quickly as possible, their oversized backpacks like turtle shells on their backs. Others, older, half-jog their way to their classrooms, hoping to slip unnoticed into their classrooms while their teachers are distracted.

Upon a closer look into a classroom, one may find a group of approximately 20 students pulling out their supplies and Chinese textbooks, seated before a teacher who stands ready to lecture. A look into a different class reveals younger children, some of mixed race, who sit in groups, participating in different activities led by older, more experienced students who work as teaching assistants.

This is the Mandarin Language and Cultural Center, or MLCC, one of many schools belonging to the Association of Northern California Chinese Schools (ANCCS). MLCC hosts Chinese classes of varying grade levels at Milpitas High on Friday evenings and at Saratoga High on Saturday mornings.

MLCC principal Jane Chen said she established the school in 1997 after realizing that many parent-run Chinese schools had teachers who lacked proper teaching experience and training. Chen decided a formal school would be far more effective and beneficial.

Every year, MLCC serves a total of approximately 1,100 students, from preschool to 12th grade, in its weekend heritage classes along with another 100 to 150 in private school Mandarin Club programs. Students also participate in festivals and city hall events celebrating various Chinese holidays.

“Through hands-on activities, stories telling and puppet shows, many children enjoy and explore Chinese culture,” Chen said.

Students at MLCC read from and discuss textbook passages to develop language skills; older students also focus on Chinese history and culture and more complex writing and communication skills. Homework typically focuses on listening, speaking, reading and writing and includes tasks such as recordings of passages and reading comprehension.

Aside from classes, MLCC allows more experienced students to volunteer as TAs for Chinese as a Foreign Language (CFL) classes, which are structured for those with less background with Chinese.

Several Saratoga High students take advantage of such volunteering opportunities in order gain both volunteer hours and experience working with people of various ages. Junior Vivian Lin, who used to attend MLCC herself, said she first heard about this opportunity from her eighth-grade Chinese teacher.

“I immediately wanted to apply, since I really enjoy being around little kids,” she said. “I knew it would be a great experience.”

As a TA, Lin juggles a variety of tasks including grading papers, monitoring the class, leading small group activities and helping students who require extra assistance. Although she said maintaining these duties is tiring, she remains enthusiastic about her job because of the bonds she creates with the students.

“They’re just really fun to be around and I’m always excited to see them at the end of the week,” Lin said. “I have a couple kids from two years ago that still message me, which makes me extremely happy knowing that they still remember me.”

Sophomore Allison Ha, who also volunteers at MLCC, added that helping younger students encourages personal growth as well.

“You get to know yourself better in terms of patience and how well you can use different methods to help the kids have fun while learning,” she said.

Many Chinese-American and Taiwanese-American students recognize the importance of attending schools such as MLCC. Going to such schools benefits students and parents alike in their daily lives, according to sophomore Audrey Lee.

“Attending Chinese schools lets us communicate with our parents more easily,” Lee said. “It’s also important for us to keep our culture and tradition, so we can pass it down to future generations.”

Chen has dedicated herself to preserving Chinese culture and encouraging student growth through such education.

“Students will enrich their lives and broaden their minds by learning language and culture,” she said.