Valley school district recognized for second language program; some voice concerns

PHOENIX - It is a controversy over a second language program that has put one Valley school district on the map.

Almost 500 students are enrolled in the Mandarin Immersion program in the Deer Valley Unified School District. The program has attracted many families from out of state and other school districts and has been a role model for other similar programs in the nation.

Students spend half the school day learning everything from math to sciences in Mandarin, and the other half of the school day in English. The program is offered from K-8.

Deer Valley school officials say they "support all student programs that fulfill our mission to provide extraordinary opportunities to every learner, including the Mandarin program, which is designed to help prepare students to succeed in an increasingly global economy."

Despite the success and popularity of the program, some school board members are expressing concerns about the funding source behind the program.

District officials tell ABC15 Arizona that five of the 20 teachers who are in the classrooms are funded through a program linked to the Chinese Ministry of Education.

The ASU Confucius Institute helps vet the Chinese teachers who eventually get jobs in the U.S. The program had partnerships with just 20 schools in 2009. Today, they partner with almost 200 schools.

Board members Kim Fisher and Darcy Tweedy voiced their concerns during board meetings held in December and early January.

Statements made during the board meeting include:

"We can't have foreign governments influencing our classrooms. We just need to know if this is happening or not," and "There is something in the statute that says we are to take no action against the United States government."

Fisher goes on to say, "I know that a way to a nation is through their youth," and in a recent tweet posted the program "is a part of a partnership between Obama and the Chinese government to help make China a superpower. Language is good, but we must be responsible with how."

Both Tweedy and Fisher acknowledge during the board meeting that they have no issue with the Mandarin immersion program in itself, but they felt teachers who are part of it should only have a contract with the local school district, and not a foreign government.

Paul Shuey a father with two children in the program said he had no issue or problem with any of the teachers, or any concerns about the funding source behind some of the teacher salaries.

Shuey and his family left South Carolina and moved to Arizona just so their children could be in the Mandarin immersion program.

"So many people speak Spanish my wife researched it and said we she should look into Mandarin.  10-15 years from now, this is a powerful tool for them to have to be successful in a competitive global economy," said Schuey.

Trish and Russell Lindsey also had twin boys in the program and said they were amazed at the change they saw in their children's cognitive and learning skills.

"Gavilan Peak has become a benchmark for other schools across the nation to look at since they developed this program," said Trish Lindsay.

When asked if the parents worried about the Chinese government trying to "infiltrate" the children's minds or China using this as a tool to become a superpower, the parents laughed and said they found those comments to be ridiculous.

"If anything it gives our kids superpowers to be able to compete in this world," said Shuey.

Carrie Maxwell-Ellison, a mother with a child in the program pointed out that she had recently read that President Donald Trump's granddaughter could speak Mandarin as well.

DVUSD officials said board members would take a second look at programs within the school from time-to-time to ensure each program provided the best use of district resources to fulfill their mission.

The issue will be up for discussion at a school board meeting scheduled to take place on Tuesday night, as board members are expected to vote to accept the contract of a Chinese teacher who is funded by the Hanban Institute in China.

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