Howard County Chinese School commemorate Asian heritage

May 19, 2014 by

As the nation observes Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month in May, students and staff at a scholastic program in Columbia can boast that they highlight Chinese heritage year round.

Each Sunday, they gather at Howard Community College in Columbia for Howard County Chinese School, a program that offers lessons on Chinese language and culture for students in kindergarten through the 10th grade, as well as for adults.

Launched in 1998 with about 80 students, the school has grown to about 1,000 school-age enrollees and 400 adults, and has a faculty that includes instructors who taught at schools in China.

The school enrolls children of all racial and ethnic backgrounds from age 5, teaching Mandarin, simplified characters and the Chinese phonetic alphabet, school officials said.

The school also offers bilingual courses and after-school courses such as tai chi, chorus and martial arts.

“The school started about 16 years ago by a group of Chinese parents; they really didn’t want their children to forget their heritage language,” said Guoyi Fu, chair of the school’s board of directors.

Fu said the school offers up to the 10th grade because “the Chinese language here is their second language, and when kids grow they start to slowly lose interest. They’re getting busy, and in high school they’re preparing for college applications.

“Normally, [older students] don’t have time to go to Chinese school to learn the language,” Fu said.

The nonprofit school has served as a cultural magnet for Howard County’s Chinese community. As of 2010, the county had 8,625 Chinese residents, according to Maryland State Data Center figures.

Marriotts Ridge High School senior Tianhao Gao went to HCCS from elementary school to ninth grade. The Ellicott City resident, who was recently named a U.S. Presidential Scholar, said she believes the program not only bolsters her studies at Marriotts Ridge High, but has enabled her to forge an identity she believes will serve her well in college and beyond.

“It really helped me realize my cultural connection to my heritage,” said Gao of the school. “I think that a lot of people … when they come to the United States all they want to do is assimilate, and become the American Dream, which is great. But sometimes they lose their identity, which is such a sad process.”

“In college I want to continue learning Chinese because of what the school has taught me,” added Gao, who has been accepted to University of Pennsylvania. “It’s part of my identity, and it’s part of me.”

HCCS is a member of the Chinese School Association of the United States, a not-for-profit organization established by Chinese school leaders and educators that provide services to member schools that promote Chinese language and cultural education. The association comprises more than 300 schools in 41 states. Like HCCS, most of them operate on weekends or after school.

For the past two years, the school has been cited as a “model overseas school” by the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China, an administrative office that assists the Chinese government in overseas affairs.

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