“They were the only elementary school kids invited because of their fluency,” said Edward Park, Barnard Elementary principal. “They were invited to come and study over there.”
Eddie Kapelczak and Victor Ortero spent 10 days in China last month, studying at Chongqing Renmin Primary School in Chongqing, China, participating in a language competition and experiencing Chinese culture. The visit took place Oct. 21-31.
“Giving an opportunity for students like this to go abroad — they were able to really experience what that global citizenship really means,” Park said.
Ortero, who lives in Point Loma, qualified for the international competition and visit by performing a five-minute speech and song at an earlier competition — both in Mandarin. Park said the judges were impressed that Ortero achieved a high level of proficiency in only a year and a half of studying the language.
“It will be an important language,” Ortero said. “It could help get me a job in China someday.”
Ortero said the culture in China differed in many ways from American culture. And it started at the dinner table, where he could only eat with chopsticks.
“People would eat slowly instead of eating fast,” Ortero said. “It seemed like they took forever, but they were really trying to enjoy the food.”
Ortero stayed with a host family during the visit, experiencing different Chinese rituals and hobbies, including jianzi — a Mandarin version of hacky sack. His favorite sites included the Dazu rock carvings that dated back as far as the ninth century and the seemingly ubiquitous statues of Buddha.
Park accompanied the two students on the visit to create a sister-school relationship with the Chongqing Renmin Primary School, leading the parties to sign an agreement Oct. 26. Park said Barnard Elementary’s second such partnership will create friendship and understanding between the students of two cultures.
“Six thousand miles away, these things are happening and we’re collaborating together to learn the most widely-spoken language in the world,” Park said. “We are working jointly together in cyberspace in order to get to know each other’s language and culture and everyday life experiences.”
With halls adorned by Chinese banners and gifts, Barnard Elementary is enjoying a banner 2010. In addition to the new sister-school partnership, the school has received a county proclamation and was named a 2010 California Distinguished School within the calendar year.
“Lots of great things are happening because of the Mandarin program,” Park said. “Because we’re teaching that, the analytical skills and everything that comes along with it have been enhanced.”
Within the kindergarten-through-sixth-grade program, students are fully immersed in Mandarin their first two years. After that, Park said study of the language tapers off.
“We are the only dedicated magnet program to teach immersion classes,” Park said. “That is the key component for these kids to be fluent and proficient.”
Barnard Elementary School is located at 2930 Barnard St. in Point Loma. For more information, call (619) 224-3306 or visit barnardelementary.com.