The closing of the 2020 school year may have been unique for Zeeland Christian School, but it also marks a historic first for any school in Ottawa County and any Christian school in the Midwest. Within the 8th grade graduating class of 2020 is a small group of students who will begin high school both bilingual and bi-literate in English and Mandarin Chinese. They entered elementary school with no knowledge of the Mandarin Chinese language but after eight years of doing nearly all of their content study in Mandarin Chinese, these students are graduating with an 8th grade level of speaking, reading, and writing fluency in the language. “I have enjoyed learning Mandarin,” said ZCS Mandarin Immersion graduate Zoe Larsen, “I’m thankful that Zeeland Christian gave me this opportunity and I hope to use it for the rest of my life to help others to know God.”
They have navigated science, social studies, math, and all other content areas using the Chinese language. Over the years, their native speaking teachers carefully crafted their lessons to be sure that while students were learning the grade-level standards, they were also gleaning age-appropriate Chinese language. They have connected with students from abroad, written persuasive essays and research papers, and performed in community events, all consistently and solely in Mandarin. Due to careful planning by the school, these students’ English skills have grown consistently and are at or above grade level as well.
学生家长 Steve Grant 回忆说，“当我们听说泽兰基督学校要开办中文项目，我们告诉了郭凯琪。她当时只有7岁，她说，‘我一直想学习中文’。从那以后我们的女儿就开始了中文学习之路。最难忘的事情是在2017年8月我们全家去中国收养郭扬子的时候。因为我和妻子都不会说中文，所以看到郭凯琪和郭扬子聊天让我们终身难忘，这也让收养过程变得更加容易。此外，郭凯琪和她的弟弟郭凯威和不同地方中国人的交流也让我们欣喜。”郭凯琪补充说，“我喜爱学习中文的原因是可以没有障碍的和来自其他文化的人沟通。就像我们收养郭扬子的时候，我可以跟那里的人说话。”
ZCS parent Steve Grant recalled, “When we heard that ZCS was going to offer Mandarin Immersion, we mentioned this to Caiti and she said, as a 7-year-old, “I have always wanted to learn Chinese” and that started the journey. The highlight was when we traveled as a family to China in August of 2017 to adopt Caleb into our family. It was truly amazing to see Caiti engage with Caleb as we could not as parents and this made the transition so much easier. The other amazing part of this trip was to see Caiti and her brother Will who also joined the program engage with the Chinese people wherever we went.”
Caiti added, “I love learning Chinese because it helps break the wall down with people of other cultures because I can speak to them. Like when we adopted Caleb.”
When asked what they appreciated about their Mandarin immersion experience at Zeeland Christian, 8th-grade brothers, Simon and Garrison Sprik laughed and said, “[We] like being able to communicate with each other and no one else can understand us!” They also noted how
interacting with native Chinese people stands out as a highlight. Zeeland Christian tries to be as intentional as possible with making these connections; the students traveled to Chicago’s Chinatown for a class trip and celebrated the Chinese New Year each year with international Chinese students from both Northpointe Christian and Holland Christian High School. The boys also realize the unique nature of their educational path. “It is so cool that we can learn Mandarin in elementary school rather than waiting until college,” they reflected. Garrison admitted that it was definitely challenging at times, but that the new experience was fun and motivating. Simon shared how their teachers were so gracious and patient. “We weren’t born into a society where we heard it every day,” yet the teachers continually adjusted lessons to make things understandable and helped students to learn the language.
As these 8th-grade students move forward in their educational careers, they all intend to continue using and growing in the use of the Mandarin language. Most will enroll in Holland Christian High School’s Advanced Mandarin program. These students will be able to study the Mandarin language, literature, and culture through one class that will be offered on the HCHS campus by Western Michigan University. They will also enroll in another class, fully taught in Mandarin, that will combine both the Mandarin immersion students from Zeeland Christian with the international Chinese students who attend high school at HCHS. Anna Slenk, the Immersion Coordinator at HCHS explains, “The goal of the program is not only to provide a quality advanced Mandarin Language Program that works to develop language skills but also to provide a means for students in the Advanced Mandarin Program and students from China who are part of our International Student Program to learn from each other and develop cross-cultural relationships.”
对于 Shanda Sprick和她的丈夫Gary来说，选择让孩子从小学开始加入中文沉浸式项目的确需要很大的信心。伴随着一些不确定和问题，在使用汉字学习大部分课程的同时，中文项目的学生们（目前有近100名学生）完全融入了泽兰基督学校的大家庭，享受学校提供的一切资源。Shanda补充说，“我们很期待看到这些孩子今后的社会生活，他们将用中文让耶稣的恩光更加闪亮”。
Choosing the Mandarin immersion program for their children at the beginning of elementary school was a leap of faith for Shanda Sprik and her husband, Gary. While there have been times of uncertainty and question, the students in the program (which is now nearly 100 students) have been fully a part of the Zeeland Christian School community and all that it has to
offer–even while spending the majority of their educational career learning through character-based Mandarin Chinese. Shanda added, “We are eager to send these students into the world, so they may use their Mandarin to burn brightly for Jesus!”