There are some days when Markita Brewster wished she knew what her kids and their father were talking about.
Since September, Malik, 10, and Teiya, 8, have learned Chinese phrases and know numbers from one to 10 in their new language, thanks to Zhang Yong, their instructor at Roosevelt Elementary School. Their father is not Chinese, but graduated from Indian Trail Academy, which was the first school in the district to offer Mandarin as a foreign language.
“Their dad took it for four years and he loves all kinds of things Chinese. The kids come home and talk about it and they say, ‘Daddy, can you guess what that means?’” said Brewster, who was one of dozens of parents at Roosevelt’s Chat n’ Chew Thursday night.
Carmen Contreras, whose daughters Annabel, 10, Rosa, 7, and Soledad, 6, attend the school, believes it will benefit them.
“It gives them great insight in another culture,” said, Contreras, whose daughters also speak Spanish. “I think that it’s a great advantage to them in the future.”
Zhang, who is in Kenosha for the academic year thanks to a Teachers of Critical Language Program grant from the State Department, gave a presentation to parents, teachers and his students about his experience since coming to the district in September. Students at the school have Zhang once a week for Chinese classes.
“I spent a really wonderful year here this year,” said Zhang, who will return to China this summer. “I tried to bring them more ideas of Chinese culture. They’ve had more opportunity to try different types of things that are Chinese.”
At Thursday’s event, Zhang showed parents what their children have learned from the literature surrounding the Chinese zodiac to the numbers they learned connecting dots to make the picture of the culture’s legendary dragon. Students also learned songs to further their understanding of basic phrases in Chinese, characters in writing, art and even food.
“The Roosevelt kids have their Chinese folder. They can use it even in middle school and high school and it will be available to them,” he said before his presentation.
Parents also learned the school was awarded a second-year program grant for a resident teacher of Chinese language and culture.
Camille Schroeder, Roosevelt instructional coach, said the school will offer the program with a new teacher from China beginning in September.
The grant allows a Chinese teacher to work for one year in a school. Roosevelt was one of 10 in the nation to have its grant renewed, she said.
Diane Wood, a teacher mentoring Zhang during his stay, said he uses many ways to teach that were “child-centered” and “activity-based.”
“He has worked very hard to make this year a success and one of his goals was also to help us qualify for a second year,” Wood said.
Schroeder said another component of his teaching arrangement in Kenosha was community outreach. In addition to other schools in Kenosha Unified, Brighton and Paris students got a chance to learn about China through him.
“He makes friends so quickly,” Schroeder said. “All the kids remember him.”
And Zhang said he would always cherish his time with them. He said because of the grant stipulation he cannot work for two years in the United States.
“I do want to come back,” he said.