After hearing the news about Ms. Shen’s retirement from BSGE, Chinese students felt sadness but quickly wondered about who their new Chinese teacher would be. The answer they received was as unexpected as it was absurd to them. BSGE is planning to end its Chinese program and instead of continuing Chinese with another teacher, all of the students will be transferred to taking Language B French.
Currently there students in grades 7, 9, and 10 taking Chinese. For 7th graders, who have only taken Chinese for a year, the transition to taking French class will be easier and they have a lot more time to learn a new language. However, for the high school students, especially the sophomores, the transition is expected to make a huge impact. “The fact that I’ve taken four years of a language and am now being told I have to start all over again is absolutely absurd,” said Danielle Bahnasy ‘17.
An email by Ms. Johnson was sent out to BSGE parents regarding the school’s new decision to move away Language B Chinese. “This decision is geared toward strengthening our IB Diploma Program and the future goal of students learning two languages,” Ms. Johnson said in her email. 9th and 10th grade students are scheduled to take French ab initio for the rest of their time in BSGE. “French ab initio is a two year introductory IB Diploma course designed for students who need to switch languages in high school. The achievement of students on the French IB Diploma assessments supports this decision. This course will still permit these students to be eligible for the IB Diploma.”
Many Chinese students were strongly against this idea. “A year and a half worth of French is not enough to pursue the language,” said Elizabeth Levkovich, ‘17, “we’re kind of risking the exams we have to take senior year and all the perspective we had of taking Chinese is being completely changed and transformed.” When several of the 10th graders went to Ms. Johnson to complain about the issue, they were told by her that the school has already been looking for a new Chinese teacher 3 to 4 times, but failed to find one successfully. Instead, the school will be looking for a new French teacher to replace Ms. Shen. “I think it’s really unfair and kind of pointless because we took 4 years of Chinese, so we didn’t master Chinese. But now, we’re going to take French and we’re never going to master French in 2 years. We’re basically stuck between two languages that we’re never going to be able to use in our life if we don’t master it,” said Aardarsh Devkota ‘17. It turned out that instead of intending to hire a full-time Chinese teacher to continue Chinese class at BSGE, the school tried to look for a teacher who is willing to work part-time at the school to teach Chinese for only 2 years—until the current 10th graders finish taking the Chinese IB Exam in their senior year. In other words, it was already decided that Language B Chinese would eventually be eliminated regardless of whether there was a Chinese teacher.
Many students wanted to make their voices clear about getting a new Chinese teacher and keeping Chinese class in BSGE. Some even took it to another level by creating a petition on Change.org. So far, more than 200 people signed the petition online. “I am signing this because it is completely necessary. The idea that the kids who have been taking Chinese for a series of 4 years now have to change a language is beyond ridiculous. The effort that we put to learn the language will be put to waste due to the fact that the announcement was made so abruptly. Ms. Shen has been able to provide us with a proper foundation and it is beyond me that there has been no effort made to even try to think of an alternative in getting a new teacher,” said Stella Pandis, ‘17, “we Chinese speaking students should get the opportunity to finish our academic career in BSGE by fully learning the language. It goes against all values of BSGE to drop a subject we have studied in depth in only because we did not try hard enough.”
On June 9, during the PTA meeting, a group of angry parents complained about the situation. “My son is a student at BSGE who has been taking Chinese and he deserves to be able to continue his studies for the next 3 years,” said one BSGE Parent. Besides complaining to the school, several students and parents also went about contacting people in the Department of Education outside of the building such as Juan Mendez, the Superintendent of BSGE’s school district.
Elizabeth Levkovich also said, “We were told that no one is actually actively looking for a Chinese teacher. We’re kind of waiting for someone to reach out for us, and I don’t personally think that we, as students, should have the responsibility or feel like we have the obligation to look for a Chinese teacher. I think that it’s the school’s responsibility to go out and find a teacher.” For the sake of “strengthening our IB Diploma Program,” the school is losing its initial goal of preparing the students for lifelong learning. Instead of trying to provide students with a full 6-year language class that will enable them to be able to communicate with more people in the future, it seems that the sole purpose of introducing a new French teacher is to get the students to complete an IB Exam.