Eleven years ago, the XinXing Academy Mandarin Chinese immersion program at Hopkins Public Schools enrolled its first students. Two sections of kindergarten embarked on a journey that not only included all content being taught in a foreign language, but also was truly foreign territory for the District. Now a robust K-10 immersion program with 430 students, XinXing Academy is reaching another milestone as it expands to the high school level.
XinXing Academy began in fall 2007, and each year the District added a grade level. Students who continued on the Chinese immersion track then entered XinXing @ West, the program offered at West Junior High. And with the start of the 2017-18 school year, the first class of XinXing students—who began as kindergarteners—enrolled in a Chinese course at Hopkins High School.
The inaugural high school class has 22 students and is taught by Xin Zhang. She began her career at Hopkins two years ago with XinXing @ West. Zhang, who had only taught Mandarin Chinese as a world language, is embracing the opportunity to provide Hopkins High School students with a full immersion experience.
“We only speak Chinese in the classroom,” Zhang said. “And while it is challenging, I believe it opens their minds to what it truly means to be a global citizen. And now that they are in high school they are taking it even more seriously.”
The block schedule at the high school was modified for XinXing students so they could meet on alternating days throughout the year, instead of having just one semester of coursework. K-12 World Language and Immersion Coordinator Molly Wieland said this slight schedule shift ensures their language skills remain intact. In the classroom, students are not only polishing their Chinese written and oral abilities, but they are also learning important life skills through curriculum designed for the college level.
Students are deepening their understanding of topics such as the Chinese education and government systems, and they are using their language skills to explore important issues such as health care through a Chinese lens. Wieland said they are building on their already substantial set of language skills for everyday interactions. They are learning the language and culture skills required for tasks such as finding an apartment in China. Zhang said the textbook immerses students in Chinese life and allows them to practice speaking and comprehending real-world scenarios. Students will learn 350 new Chinese characters this year and will practice the more formal written-style expressions that are often used in news broadcasts and formal speeches.
“Besides the academic part, we want to show them the different sides of China,” Zhang said. “They will need to communicate one way in Shanghai, which is a bustling, big city. And they will need to communicate in another way in more rural China. They are also exploring units about currency and how to find a job and how to take care of a family.”
Each week students are graded on how well they use Chinese in the classroom and their written skills on homework in Google Classroom. Technology is an important part of the success of the XinXing Academy program and allows students to interact with the Chinese culture right from the classroom. Zhang relies on videos and online resources to bring practical lessons to her students.
While the XinXing program at the high school is on solid foundation, it is still evolving. A grade will continue to be added until the program is incorporated through 12th-grade. Wieland credits the program being offered at the high school to a pioneer group of curious learners who have learned to be flexible in the face of uncharted “newness.”
“They have demonstrated commitment to making Chinese part of their education throughout high school, and I believe that they will continue to use their Chinese in the future as part of whatever careers they choose,” she said. “Having a high level of proficiency in Chinese will set them apart from others as they move into college and the work place.”