Soumakian said district offi- cials recognize India and China as two of the world’s leading emerging markets, and in order for students to compete in the 21st century job market, they must know how to speak a variety of foreign languages.
To that end, the district will offer Mandarin Chinese next year to Camarillo and Rio Mesa high school students.
“ The primary reason ( for Mandarin) is for global competition and interdependence. We need to prepare our students for that kind of world,” Soumakian said.
William Dabbs, the district’s assistant superintendent of educational services, said interest in Mandarin has grown as more Chinese American students attend the two high schools.
“While the students may know conversa- tional Mandarin, they may not know how to read or write it,” said Dabbs.
The district hired Irene Sy of Camarillo as the Mandarin teacher for both schools.
She taught the language at Rio Mesa’s summer school. The class was considered an elective and did not fulfill the college language requirement.
The district encouraged interested students to take after- school courses at the Ventura County Chinese Language School, where Sy is the principal.
Sy previously taught Mandarin to middle school students at Las Coli- nas Middle School in Camarillo. She says she’ s been longing to bring the Chinese culture to public high schools. “I’m very active in promoting and advocating Chinese in the area,” said Sy, who learned from her parents. “At Rio Mesa, I shared calligraphy and the Chinese yo-yo.”
S y ’ s passion is expressed outside of the classroom, too. As the vice president of the Ventura County Chinese Americ an Asso- ciation, she helped organize a Chinese New Year celebration at the Camarillo Library. If she receives a grant in the fall, Sy plans to take her students to the Chinese American Museum in downtown Los Angeles.
The two high schools will start with Introduction to Mandarin Chinese.
As students progress, the schools will offer more advanced courses.
“I’m excited about it. We’re having to build the program as we go,” said Dabbs.
District officials want to offer advanced Mandarin classes at Camarillo High and Mandarin literature at Rio Mesa as part of its International Baccalaureate program. When the programs grow, the district will hire another teacher.