On Sunday, May 7, the Chinese School of South Jersey will be holding an open house at Carusi Middle School for community members to come and learn more about its programs and highlight student works. The open house will run from 2 to 4 p.m. and will be displaying work from students in the cafeteria, as well as calligraphy and water painting displays from the culture class.
The school is led by around 22 volunteer parents and meets weekly on Sundays from 2 to 5 p.m. Students can be anywhere from toddler-aged to fully grown adults and are a combination of students whose parents already speak mandarin Chinese and also non-heritage students who come to study the language.
“The first two hours are language and the last hour is culture class,” explained Principal Dr. Peter Chen. Culture class includes activities like ping pong, basketball and calligraphy. Previous years have featured dance, tea art and flower arrangements but it has depended on enrollment.
The school offers several tracks, one for children of parents who are native Chinese speakers who speak the language at home, another for kids who are learning Chinese as a second language, separated into the age groups of 5-9 years old and 10 plus years old, another for parents and toddlers and one for adults interested in learning Chinese.
Though they meet less frequently than language classes in public schools, the curriculum goes over similar skills, including reading comprehension, conversational and written word for traditional mandarin using traditional characters.
“I think the challenges to learn (the language) is to have the environment to use it and people that can help you,” Chen said.
Students also get to practice their skills through a speech event where once a year, students prepare a script and deliver it before a panel of judges.
Throughout the year, the school has also hosted community events, like going to the Phillies or 76ers game together, or organizing a hayride with a local farm. Chen acknowledged that it can be challenging learning the language, but that the students benefited in a number of ways, including opening their understanding of the world and connecting more to their family and heritage.
“I think the biggest benefit is to know the people in our community in our school,” Chen said. “We came in as strangers and by the time we finished, we made a lot of friends.”