Western Kentucky University will double the number of Chinese teachers it is bringing to area schools next year in response to a growing demand for more instructors.
The Chinese teacher pilot program, offered through WKU’s new Confucius Institute - a collaboration between the Chinese Language Council International and China’s Sichuan International Studies University to promote Chinese language and culture - this fall puts 11 teachers in schools in Barren, Logan and Warren counties.
In January, WKU academic leaders will travel back to China to recruit an additional 10 to 15 teachers, said Cheryl Kirby-Stokes, educational outreach coordinator of the Confucius Institute at WKU.
The teachers this year have been placed at Greenwood, South Warren, Warren East and Logan County high schools, as well as in Glasgow and at Parker-Bennett-Curry, W.R. McNeill, Lewisburg and Olmstead elementary schools.
Logan County currently has two Chinese teachers at the K-8 level and one at Logan County High School, but next year the school system wants at least one teacher at each of its six schools, said Janet Hurt, associate superintendent of Logan County Schools.
“We want all of our students to have the opportunity to learn Chinese because it is and it will be important to the global economy,” Hurt said. “We can’t teach every language, so we try to pick those we have access to and those that will be a benefit to our students. We also think this could lead to student-exchange programs and other things that could culturally widen the perspective of our students and give them opportunities they might not have otherwise.”
Classes also include instruction in Chinese calligraphy, art, music and cooking. The teachers will conduct Super Saturday classes through WKU’s Center for Gifted Studies and will participate in Bowling Green’s International Festival, as well as WKU summer language camps.
Part of the Confucius Institute’s mission, Kirby-Stokes said, is educational outreach to the community and to businesses. A number of events are being considered for that purpose, including Chinese language opportunities for the business community.
The teachers come from WKU’s partner university, China’s Sichuan International Studies University, where they are required to meet standards set by WKU’s Chinese Flagship Pilot Program, one of nine Chinese language proficiency programs funded by the federal Language Flagship Program. The criteria for selection are similar to those required for Peace Corps teachers, Kirby-Stokes said.
Teachers are assigned to their posts for one year with the option to renew their contracts for up to an additional two years.
“From WKU’s perspective, I see this as really important in helping us to fulfill our mission to the greater community, and that is to create and disseminate knowledge,” said Amy Eckhardt, director of the Office of Scholar Development in the WKU Chinese Flagship Pilot Program and co-director of the WKU Confucius Institute. “This program represents that ideal.”
Eckhardt said she believes the new Chinese program has broad appeal to area educators and to students, for several reasons.
As the Chinese economy has emerged as the second largest in the world after the United States’, there are economic and practical implications for students to learn more about the country. It also benefits school systems because it gives them an advantage as they strive to meet higher performance standards, according to Eckhardt.
“Having the addition of a language like Chinese helps provide the academic rigor schools are looking for in today’s world,” she added. “And it will certainly help on college applications.”