WOOD RIVER JCT. — Sitting in an office on a sweltering morning, Wang Ling, the Chariho Regional School District’s first Mandarin Chinese language teacher, said the heat wave was just like the ones that happen every summer back home in China.
“The same as here,” she said. “It’s really hot in July and August, but after August it’s better.”
Wang, a 20-year veteran high school English teacher at Liu Yang, the top-rated high school in Hunan province, was one of 29 teachers chosen by the U.S. Department of State to teach Chinese or Arabic for one academic year.
The program, which pays for Wang’s salary, living expenses and room and board, is funded by the State Department’s Teachers of Critical Languages Program, which brings teachers from China, Egypt and Morocco to teach in the United States.
In addition to offering foreign language instruction to American students, it is hoped that the teachers return to their home countries with a deeper understanding of American culture.
“Exchange teachers gain firsthand knowledge of the United States to share with students and fellow teachers in their home countries, reaching beyond stereotypes and assisting America’s positioning to effectively do business in the world,” according to the State Department’s announcement.
Chariho is one of just 26 schools in the country selected this year to receive foreign language teachers. The district’s world language department offers classes in Spanish, Italian and French, and Superintendent of Schools Barry Ricci said he was delighted that Chariho students would now have an opportunity to study Chinese.
“What a unique opportunity for our middle and high school students,” he said. “Learning Chinese from a native speaker provides a rich and challenging option for those who aspire to learn a second or third language.”
Wang arrived in Washington, D.C., at the end of July for a 10-day State Department orientation before coming to Wood River Junction, where she is living with former Chariho teacher and School Committee member Robert Cardozo and his wife, Virginia.
Chariho Principal Craig MacKenzie and John Pecoraro, who chairs the world language department, applied for the grant. Wang had been working with Pecoraro and teacher Russell Venditto to prepare for the start of class next week.
“We are so excited for the opportunity our T.C.L.P. grant and our fortunate pairing with Mandarin teacher Wang Ling affords Chariho students,” MacKenzie said. “Her enthusiasm for bringing Chinese language and culture to Chariho is inspiring. She has been in the school and working closely with Mr. Pecoraro and Mr. Venditto daily since her arrival to understand the systems and supports that facilitate learning in our school. We are convinced that she will lay a foundation for development of a robust Chinese program in our district going forward.”
Two classes at the middle school and one high school class will be offered, and Pecoraro said demand had been surprisingly strong.
“It was very popular at the middle school,” he said. “This is a part-time position. The rest of her position is dedicated to community outreach, so she will teach one class here at the high school and two at the middle school. The two at the middle school, that’s a total of 35-some students, and at the high school, we have a lot of upperclassmen who chose to take language and that’s a rare thing…We have seniors that are really excited about it.”
Wang’s outreach work will include attending conferences and sharing her culture with adults as well as students.
“I want to express knowledge about China, the culture, the history. I want American people to know more about China,” she said. “In my classes, besides teaching them of Chinese characters, speaking and listening, I will express or present some of the cultures of the Chinese. When there’s a traditional Chinese festival coming, I will tell them the origin and the history of this festival and what kinds of activities they do. We also have to do some outreach hours, which T.C.L.P. has asked us to do, so I will attend a language conference on October 13.”
Wang said she had not been homesick yet, because, thanks to computers, she talks to her husband, a municipal government employee, and her daughter, a university student in British Columbia, Canada, every night. And there’s also a whole lot of sightseeing to do.
“It’s really wonderful here,” she said. “At first, I just looked on the internet and they said Rhode Island has famous scenery. Virginia showed me lots of beaches here. I know it’s the smallest state that has the longest coastline."