Portland high schools are expanding their Mandarin language offerings this fall under a new partnership with the Chinese Ministry of Education.

For the last two years, the district has offered Mandarin classes taught by a Chinese instructor affiliated with the Confucius Institute, housed at the University of Southern Maine.

Under the new arrangement, the district is a “ConfuciussClassroom,” which means it will get its own designated instructor from China, paid for by the Chinese government. Fangfang Song will teach four classes, two at Deering High School and two at Casco Bay High School, according to Grace Valenzuela, who oversees the district’s multicultural center.

The Portland school district has expanded its language offerings in recent years.

In 2013, Deering High School began integrating an international focus into all coursework, and began offering Arabic and Mandarin language classes, when it became part of the International Studies School Network, a project of the New York-based nonprofit Asia Society. At Lyseth Elementary School, the district is in the second year of the state’s first Spanish immersion program.

The Confucius Institute and Confucius Classroom programs are overseen by Hanban, the Chinese Ministry of Education. Local districts pay modest costs – about $1,000 in Portland’s case – to pay for visas and miscellaneous expenses, Valenzuela said. The instructors also must hold Maine teaching credentials.

At USM, Hanban not only provided the instructors and materials for the Confucius Institute, it also gave USM $150,000 in startup funds, and about $100,000 a year to administer the institute.

The move comes as the state is increasing its focus on trade with China, looking to increase exports to lure investment. Gov. Paul LePage has led two trade missions to China, and education was a centerpiece of the second trade mission, in 2015.

The export demand for Maine lobster has also shifted from traditional markets in Europe to Asia, with the demand fueled by the growing middle class in China. Export figures reflect the growing appetite in China for lobsters, where export revenues jumped from zero in 2007 to $19.8 million in 2015. China is now the top destination outside North America for Maine lobster.

Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School in Norway was the first school in Maine to have a Confucius Classroom program. It began in 2012, and has one instructor, according to principal Ted Moccia. About 25 students take language courses and about 25 take Chinese culture classes.

“It’s a great program,” said Moccia, noting that the school also has an independent sister-school relationship with a Chinese school. Moccia said Oxford Hills is expanding the program to two Hanban teachers in the fall, with one working at the district’s middle school.

Valenzuela said interested Portland High School students could also participate by attending the classes at Deering.

A ceremony with traditional Chinese dance performances is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Deering High School auditorium.

Confucius Institutes, part of China’s diplomatic outreach, were created in 2004. Most focus on language and culture, while some have specific research roles or specialize in one topic, such as food. Today there are 109 Confucius Institutes at higher education institutions and 347 Confucius Classrooms at K-12 schools in the United States, according to the Hanban.

 

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