Nathan Adams Elementary is discovering another culture. Quiye Ma, originally from a small town in North China, is teaching second- through fifth-graders how to speak and write Mandarin, as well as all about Chinese culture.
The lockers that line the halls of the elementary school are covered in the students’ art from Chinese class. Other teachers greet Ma with “nĭ hăo” in the hallway.
Principal Dora Renaud says she can see students from her office playing rock-paper-scissors in Mandarin.
“They weren’t in school, or in class,” she said. “That to me is when you know you’re successful.”
Many of Nathan Adams students are already used to immersive language classes, as the school offers a dual-language program in which students receive 50/50 instruction in English and Spanish. The goal of both the DL program and the Chinese enrichment program is to prepare students to participate in a global society.
“I want to make students more open to cultures they’ve never known,” Ma said. “I want to get them out of their comfort zones.”
Sepeid and Sheiveh Goudarzi, in second and fourth grade respectively, are excited to be adding Spanish and Mandarin to their language repertoire. The pair already speak Farsi.
“I love Chinese class because it gives the opportunity to all kids to learn a new language,” Sepeid said. “Everyone knows Spanish and English.”
Ma teaches her students kung fu, calligraphy, and about the different Chinese customs. She has her students call her teacher, “ma lao shi,” rather than miss as many teachers in the U.S. are called.
To help teach the students pronunciation, Ma assigns different movements to every sound. She says these kung fu lessons are the students’ favorite. In this sense, kung fu refers to a skill achieved through hard work and practice rather than to martial arts.
Ma came to Texas in 2008 to get her masters degree in elementary education. She attended Texas A&M Corpus Christie and then taught Chinese at the middle school level before coming to Nathan Adams last fall.
“I love their energy,” Ma said. “I love them being so sweet and they’re eager to learn.”
The immersive learning doesn’t stop in Ma’s classroom. The music and art special classes are collaborating with Ma to integrate Chinese songs and crafts into the courses as well, Renaud said. They’re favorite craft is making Chinese lanterns, on which they write different Chinese blessings.
Ma has expanded her class into an after-school program that meets every Thursday. The club dedicates more time to singing, kung fu, and calligraphy.
Sheiveh is participating in the after-school pro gram because she wants to do more crafts. “I like to be creative,” she said.
Nathan Adams held a Chinese New Year celebration Feb. 8, complete with a lion dance performance, to welcome in the year of the monkey.