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Mandarin school thrilled with new campus

By MAY ZHOU in Houston | China Daily USA | Updated: 2016-10-25 10:59

Mandarin Immersion Magnet School (MIMS), one of the largest immersion schools teaching Mandarin Chinese in the US, on Monday celebrated its new $32 million campus situated in the Galleria district.

The Houston Independent School District (HISD) established MIMS in 2012. It started with pre-kindergarten through second grades with an additional grade added each year.

It now serves more than 500 pre-K to sixth-grade students with the last two grades to be added by 2018. Before this fall, MIMS had been housed in a small elementary school built in 1953.

With a building design themed in Chinese bright red, a school logo of a dragon and phoenix, colorful lanterns, and Chinese calligraphy and dragon dances, the celebration took on a distinctively Chinese cultural flavor.

"Our building was designed to reflect the sun and moon. There are a lot of bright colors with natural lights coming in. There are state-of-the-art science labs, dedicated space for technology, art and music. During the past two short months here, we all have really fallen in love with this space," Chao-Lin Chang, MIMS principal, said in welcoming remarks.

According to Chang, of the school's 25 current teachers, 13 are Chinese-speaking. "Our goal is to have about 50 teachers when the school is at full capacity, with about 900 students from pre-K to eighth grade. We will always maintain our Chinese teachers' ratio at 50 percent."

By the time students complete eighth grade, they will have the high school course equivalent in Chinese. Supporting them in pursuit of continuing their Chinese-language study is another issue for the school to consider, Chang said.

HISD public data show that the MIMS demographic is made up of roughly 31 percent Asians, and 20 percent white, Hispanic and African-American students.

HISD trustee Harvin Moore told how the school got started.

"It's an amazing school, and it took us seven years to get here," Moore said. "It was literally seven years ago that the superintendent at that time told me that I ought to visit China with the College Board to learn about dual-language programs. He said that Mandarin would be great for our students.

"On that trip, I met a principal from San Diego who ran a school much like this one. After seeing it working well in San Diego, I thought it could and would work in Houston," Moore said, adding that kids get smarter when immersed in two languages from a young age.

Moore, who sent his son to MIMS, called the school a great success, with a waiting list of eight students for each available spot.

"When the school is fully built up in two more years, it will be the largest in the nation," Moore said.

"I was here since it started from first grade. In Chinese classes, we learn science, math and Chinese, and we learn the rest of our subjects in English," said Eden Roberts, a sixth grader and vice president of the MIMS Student Council. "Half of the teachers teach in Chinese only. They use pictures and body language to help us understand. It's fun and it works. We don't just learn Mandarin; we also learn about Chinese culture. We talk a lot about values," Roberts said.

Texas state Representative Gene Wu said that MIMS truly represents where Houston is going, where Texas is going, and where the US is going.

"Asian American is the fastest growing group in the entire nation. If you drive down from here to Westchase district, you will see that many Chinese companies are moving in from overseas to build their regional headquarters in the US in Houston. It's the welcoming spirit of a school like this; it's this type of embrace of everyone from every walk of life and every culture that is drawing people to our city," Wu said.

Chinese Consul Duan Fenghua was impressed with the students' Mandarin speaking.

"Already they can use Chinese fluently to express themselves. The students are the leaders of the future. They are not only learning the language but also the culture. They will have a better understanding of diversity. This is the first such Chinese immersion school in Texas. We would certainly like to lend some support in the future," said Duan.

Mandarin school thrilled with new campus

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