During tonight’s meeting with River Hill High School and HCPSS on the Chinese language teaching, our former River Hill High School student Zoe Jordan’s mom shared her daughter’s email.
It is very powerful and moving. I asked her mom’s permission to share it here for your reference.
Hi, My name is Zoe Jordan and I am a 2014 graduate of River Hill High School. Currently I am a junior studying at New York University Shanghai with a major in Global China Studies and a double minor in Mandarin and Interactive Media Arts.
I was a student of Ms. Liang’s at River Hill for three years, taking Chinese my sophomore through senior year. Taking Mandarin in high school, especially with Ms. Liang (I can’t emphasize enough her influence on me as a student), is probably the largest reason that I am able to live and study in China today. So, when I heard earlier this summer that River Hill was discontinuing most of its Chinese program and limiting existing classes to online, I was extremely disheartened and disappointed. I’m hoping to take this opportunity to express a few words about my disappointment with the school board’s decision.
I’ll start with why Chinese is so important to me. Currently, Mandarin is at the core of my studies. At NYU Shanghai, I study Chinese history, culture, and China’s present interactions with the rest of the world. Without a familiarity with the language, my understanding of Chinese culture and history would be vastly less nuanced. Not only that, but now some of my closest friends, teachers, and roommates are Chinese. In high school, Chinese represented something much more complicated. I was one of a few Caucasian students in a classroom of high schooler’s who either had some prior understanding of Mandarin or who spoke Mandarin at home. Admittedly, I was terrible at the language. I didn’t understand tones, I had an awful accent, memorizing characters was terrifying to me, and I was shy in class. At times, I felt completely hopeless about progressing when speaking Chinese seemed effortless to other students. But it taught me persistence. In retrospect, Chinese was one of the only subjects that I studied with the same rigor that I would in a college class. There were tangible rewards for my progress, I made new friends, I learned how to reach out for help when needed, and I learned that high school doesn’t need to be a typical conglomeration of English-Math-History-Science-Spanish. Chinese allowed me to individualize my high school experience even at a public school, and for that I now am studying at my dream school and making friends from all over the world.
My experience with Chinese may not be as typical as most high-school-language learners get through their language classes, but I hope it can emphasize how important Chinese is to the River Hill community and even more so to an ever-shrinking world. Although we are a large public school, we are comprised of a tight-knit community including many Chinese students and parents. I was able to participate in two programs: StarTalk (a government funded language learning program) and a teaching program in which I was an assistant teacher, due to Ms. Liang and her connections within the Howard County Chinese community. Even more importantly, River Hill prides itself on being a blue-ribbon, distinguished school with (and I’m quoting this from our school’s official profile) “rigorous instruction and engagement at the center of continuous improvement.” I strongly believe that discontinuing Chinese is completely counterintuitive to a dynamic and evolving school curriculum.
If our school wants to continue its prestigious legacy, it’s crucial to prepare students for a world that is more globalized, more connected, and frankly — more Chinese. As I’m sure it will be mentioned sometime else this evening, Mandarin is the most widely spoken language in the world and China is the fastest-growing economy in the world. While these facts might seem distant to us in Howard County, to a high school senior contemplating entering the business, political, or legal world, knowing what opportunities await in China for foreigners or how invaluable of a skill speaking Mandarin can be is priceless. Being able to communicate with a population of one billion largely influential Mandarin speakers is again, absolutely invaluable in the 21st century. From an economic, cultural, educational, and a person-to-person perspective — emphasizing Chinese in modern schools makes sense considering the trajectory of the future. I hope that my experiences learning Chinese can underscore how important Mandarin is to River Hill, and how big of an asset it could be to our community.