The hallways at J. Ralph McIlvaine Early Childhood Center were filled with the sounds of children chattering and singing while teachers instructed on Wednesday. What makes these otherwise average occurrences unique is that all of the chattering, singing and instruction are being conducted entirely in Mandarin.
This week McIlvaine hosted Camp Ni Hao, a camp designed to help rising first graders who participated in McIlvaine’s Chinese immersion program last year hone their skills before they begin their second year of Mandarin at either W.B. Simpson or Allen Frear elementary schools. The camp also offered incoming kindergartens an introduction to Mandarin, prior to the start of the school year.
McIlvaine started its mandarin program last school year and so far has had great success, said Principal Sherry Kijowski.
“I was very pleased with how the first year of the immersion program went,” she said. “I think as a school and a district we really jumped in. People were really supportive and made something new exceptional.”
The program has become so popular that McIlvaine had 350 parents put their incoming kindergarten students’ names in the lottery. The school only had 100 slots open for the program.
“The interest is there,” Kijowski said. “Parents, if given the chance, would certainly like to afford their child that opportunity.”
The camp was staffed by a mix of teachers from The Confucius Institute at the University of Delaware, who will serve as Mandarin teachers in district schools this year. The Confucius Institute is the organization that partners with Caesar Rodney schools to provide the Mandarin program. Ben Graham Esender, a Frankford resident and student assistant with the Confucius Institute, helped out with camp this week. Speaking Chinese can open up a whole world for children, he said.
“It opens doors to all of Asia,” Esender said.
Area middle and high school students enrolled in Mandarin programs at their own schools served as camp counselors.
“It really surprised me how much they know,” said Fifer Middle School student Kimberly Glasser. “I feel like they learn daily.”