SPARTA, NJ - “Ni hao, wo jiao Amineh Al-Aydi.” For those of you who don’t speak Mandarin Chinese, that means “Hello, my name is Amineh Al-Aydi”. I attend the Sparta Middle School’s 6th grade. I have come here today to address a problem regarding the choice of languages that will be available to study next year.
This is the way 11-year-old Amineh Al-Aydi addressed the members of the Sparta Board of Education at the May meeting.
She continued, “I remember taking the language survey on a Thursday night with my twin sister B and as we searched the provided list we noticed that the language we were both hoping to take was not there. That language was Mandarin Chinese.”
She spoke eloquently and self-assuredly asking the board to reconsider their decision to eliminate Mandarin Chinese. The program began in the Sparta Middle School in 2007. Leonard Zeng quickly became a popular instructor.
Zeng split his time between the high school and middle school as the students moved along in their studies. The program grew quickly and three years ago Honors level Chinese was offered. At that time a part time teacher was hired to cover the middle school classes.
“The decision to remove this language is unacceptable. Students who are entering their eighth grade year 2015-2016 will have to be behind in their next language class because they already used up a whole year in Chinese which will delay them. This may affect the rest of their academic career. Upcoming sixth graders will never be able to grasp a piece of this beautiful and inspiring language and my seventh grade classmates and I will never really learn what Chinese has to offer us other than the tiny bit we learned in the Introductin to World Language course.
“Not only is this unfair to us, the students, but also to our inspiring Chinese teacher, Ms. Jiang. She has come a long way to teach us, the students, this wonderful language that she uses each day.” Jiang joined the district last year.
Al-Aydi continued to make her case for the relevance of Mandarin, “The charming language known as Chinese can be a very helpful tool in one’s life nowadays, especially since China is considered one of the world’s largest economies. Chinese has many important features. It is known as the mother tongue of over 873 million people, making it the most widely spoken first language in the world. About one fifth of the planet speaks the language. China is one of the oldest and richest civilizations and China is the second largest economy in the world. Many US companies do business in China and have long-term investments there. China and its Chinese language are very interesting and can be very useful in life.”
The program was eliminated during budget discussions earlier this year. Mandarin will continue for two additional years for the sophomores and juniors who currently study the language. No new students, however, will be admitted.
Young Al-Aydi said, “Learning this language can really help us compete and relate to this very important culture and society. An example of how Chinese can be used as a tool is in international businesses such as my Mom’s, and is one that I would like to share. She works to help stop the challenges caused by Leukemia and Breast Cancer in patients all around the world, including China. From Switzerland to Japan, where she is known as Nadia and earned title “Nadiason”, she has to learn to use a lot of different languages. There are many more places where she has to work other than the examples provided. Now, they all understand English,but just as my Mom said, ‘If I only could speak the language, I would be able to relate to my co-workers and understand what they need in a better and faster way.’ We should all learn from our Mothers, right?
“I have put all of the pieces together and believe that the reason this language is not an option is because of the limited amount of people wanting to take the language,” she continued. “I have started a petition and it includes 112 names from SMS who agree that taking away Chinese is not a good idea at all and we should bring it back. This is outstanding taking my goal of 100 into account. I am positive that I could get more names, too.
“We are lucky that we have had Chinese in our School and now we are taking this away? Now what is wrong with having a small amount of people in a classroom? All that the kids are asking for is to bring back Chinese so we can learn it with the fellow classmates who would like to join us.”
When the program was brought to Sparta, the previous curriculum director indicated that fewer than 10 percent of high schools in the nation were offering any Chinese lanugage studies. She indicated allowing Sparta students to study this language gives them the opportunity to differentiate themselves from other students, especially when competing for admission to college.
Two of this year's Top 10 student at the high school study Mandarin Chinese.
Zeng said, “I am very proud of my students’ achievements. They have used their Chinese language skills serve Sparta community, particularly impressed with their graceful translation work. In addition, I had one of my top students joined US army last year after receiving the degree in East Asian Studies.”
The sixth grade student completed her remarks saying, “I am asking for the Board of Education to keep Chinese as one of the languages that we can learn here in Sparta. I hope that you will change your minds and help to keep this very special class alive.
“I would like to conclude my speech by saying a Thank You to my friends who helped me with this project. I especially want to thank Lola Sarrecchia, Jenna Bargfrede, Rachel Young, Maddie Beller, Zach Merold, Kathleen Brockman and Akshat Iyer, B Al-Aydi ,my family, SMS, you, the Board of Education , and of course ‘Why Study Chinese. Edu’.”
Superintendent Dennis Tobin responded thanking Al-Aydi for her comments. He said that her request would be taken back to the relevant committees for further discussion.