By SCARLET SIMS
A program to bring Chinese teachers to Arkansas to teach primary-school children is back on track and expanding less than a year after the U.S. State Department threatened to pull visas and send teachers back to China, officials at the University of Central Arkansas said Tuesday.
“We are now the model for other states in the union to get their systems in place,” said Steven Runge, interim provost and vice president for academic affairs. “We’re trying to build an educational program to put Arkansas students in position to be significant contributors, if not leaders, to international companies, like Walmart.”
The Teach Chinese in Arkansas Program started in 2008 and is a partnership between UCA, the Arkansas Department of Education and the Hanban-Confucius Institute Headquarters. After four years of operation, the program came under scrutiny because UCA had submitted paperwork that put the teachers in the wrong category.
That problem meant lots of paperwork for UCA officials who spent months working with the state department. The process was completed around April, Runge said.
“It was a tremendous effort to get this completed,” he said.
On Tuesday, officials from various school districts, the state education department and UCA welcomed seven new Chinese teachers, most of whom will teach Mandarin in high schools, including Wynne and Bentonville.
“We have solved the problem, and now they are here,” said speaker Guo-ou Zhuang, Confucius director and assistant professor of Chinese.
UCA, which runs the program, has 18 teachers total who are on rotating shifts. The new teachers replace ones whose two-year terms had expired, said Michael Rowland, program advisor for the state education department.
At least two school districts — Rogers and Jacksonville — have joined the program this year, despite the earlier visa problems that nearly killed the program. The program is the largest its ever been — more popular than ever, said Jingjing Li, deputy director of the Confucius Institute, which is the local branch of Hanban.
About 150 children in Rogers signed up for classes for this school year, and 600 students said in a survey they were interested in taking the course, Rogers High School principal Robert Moore said. Courtway estimated about 1,900 students statewide will take Chinese courses this year, up from about 1,600 a year ago.
Many of those students will likely be in elementary school. Last year, about half of students taking Chinese as a second language were in elementary grades, Courtway said.
“That obviously shows a greater interest in the state,” he said.
The state education department now handles visas, officials said Tuesday. Teachers will receive training July 9-27 and then for one Saturday per month, said Ann Crosser, program advisor for the state education department’s non-traditional licensure program.
“We feel very confident that there shouldn’t be any issues related to [visa problems],” Moore said.
The problems from last year are solved, and the students need to learn about China’s culture and language, school district officials said.
“You can’t deny the fact that China is a big part of the world’s future,” Moore said.
Hanban teacher Zheng Gu, who will be at the Wynne High School, said she had heard about visa issues at UCA last year, but she isn’t worried about them. She is focused on improving her teaching skills and learning American teaching methods, she said. The governments of China and the US will negotiate, she said.
“The problems will be solved,” Gu said.