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Mandatory Chinese classes give students edge

April 25, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Southern California is a gathering place for people from many countries and many cultures. People talk about the need to be bilingual. At one Pacoima school, Latino students are trilingual, the third language being Chinese.

High school students learn Chinese at Vaughn International Studies Academy charter school in Pacoima.

As a senior at Vaughn International, Aridai Sanchez is in her fourth year of studying Chinese. Along with learning English and Spanish in the elementary and middle grades at Vaughn Next Century Learning Center charter school, the mostly Latino student body is required to take at least two years of Chinese in high school.

"The requirement is actually two years, but I am actually on my fourth year. I wanted to continue speaking Chinese. It's really fun," said Sanchez.

A delegation of educators from China recently visited the charter school. The Chinese educators are spending more than a week in Southern California visiting grade schools and colleges to learn how American children are educated.

Charter school officials say a few of its graduates have had a chance to visit China in the past. Officials say while students gain a strong footing in Spanish and English, speaking a third language like Chinese is going to make them even more marketable for future jobs. Officials say in the coming years they'd like to offer students a choice of more languages to study.

The charter school started its mandatory Chinese classes when it instituted its high school about six years ago.

"It has been a little difficult to grasp it at first, but once you get the hang of it, it's easier," said student Belen Villanueva.

"The fact that our world is shrinking and we need each other and we need to have that communication, have them be globally ready," said Anita Zepeda, executive director of the Vaughn Next Century Learning Center.