Some Aiken County kindergarten students learning Mandarin Chinese as part of new language immersion classes

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Thursday, August 22, 2019

News 12 This Morning

AIKEN COUNTY, SC (WRDW/WAGT) -- As Aiken County students start their school year, some will be taking part in new language-immersion classes.

Three Aiken County schools are adding these programs, which will take place in kindergarten classes.

"You can actually walk into a classroom for a period of 30 to 40 minutes and hear nothing but the target language being spoken," said Dr. Sean Alford, Superintendent of AIken County Public Schools.

Dr. Alford said the goal is for students to acquire the language, not just have access to it. The classes will be taught by two teachers. One who speaks English, and the other who speaks the target language.

The classes are in Belvedere, Millbrook and Clearwater elementary schools, and the languages are Mandarin Chinese, German and Spanish, respectively. Dr. Alford said the languages and schools were chosen strategically.

"Those three languages are really on the high priority list as it relates to critical languages," he said. "Particularly here in the state of South Carolina. We have relationships with German businesses. We have relationships with Chinese businesses. We have a growing Spanish population."

Parents had to apply to get their children into the programs. They were available to students zoned for their specific schools, and also to students outside of the zones. He says the programs were so popular, they have a waiting list.

Dr. Alford said students in the programs will still be responsible for the same information as regular kindergarten classes.

"We don't compromise the curriculum at all," he said. "Everything that a kindergarten student is held accountable for and is supposed to learn, they will learn. They're just going to learn it in the target language."

He said there has been mostly positive feedback from the community. He added some people have pushed back, saying children that young can't learn a second language, but he's confident we'll see a big impact after just this year.

"I can guarantee that by this time next year, we're going to have some young folks walking around this community teaching folks Mandarin Chinese," he said.

Dr. Alford hopes to extend the programs up through 5th grade, so students will get lots of practice in their target languages.

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