One in five U.S. residents speak a second language at home. That’s a whopping 61.8 million people. And more than 3 million of them, according to the Center for Immigration Studies, speak the Chinese language. More so than French, more so than German and more so than Italian – combined.
That’s right. Combined. Surprised yet?
Second only to Spanish, the ability to speak Chinese as a second language at home has become more important than many of us knew, and fortunately, Ann Arbor area residents are among hundreds of students who are getting a big head start at Ann-Hua Chinese School.
“In 1993, eight Ann Arbor families got together and decided to start a class to teach Chinese,” said principal Jiang Jiang, of Ann-Hua’s origin, “These families [began] with 15 students; 400 are enrolled now.”
Just a year after founding, nine parents became board members alongside four parents who were appointed as administrators.
“They were all volunteers,” he said. “Now, nine people are on the board and more than 40 people work on the administrative team.”
They’re still, including Jiang Jiang, all volunteers.
A researcher at the University of Michigan Hospital, he came to Ann Arbor from Syracuse, N.Y., after serving as Principal of the local Chinese school and on its board of directors for nine years. He takes his volunteer leadership role every bit as seriously as he would if he received a paycheck for his work..
“Being the Principal is a huge responsibility. Every Sunday over 400 students attend Ann-Hua whereas about 500 parents are involved in activities on the side. The School also participates in 11 cultural exchange or community activities on annual basis.”
Jiang Jiang has seen tremendous growth since Ann-Hua Chinese School’s early days, saying that in the beginning its curriculum was primarily Chinese language instruction to Chinese children from K-12. A quarter century later, instruction for heritage and Chinese as a second language for both kids (aged 5 and older) and adults is available along with many enrichment opportunities.
Ann-Hua’s Director of Outreach and Development, Lingzhi Chen, is pleased with the changes and looking forward to more.
“Anyone is welcome, with Chinese heritage or not,” she says. “Ann-Hua has been offering not only Chinese language classes for heritage children, but also Chinese as a Second Language (CSL) courses to learners of all ages and levels; Ann-Hua now offers classes starting from kindergarten to adult.”
Ann-Hua Outreach is launching more language/culture programs to various learners and Chen says that families have come from outside the greater Ann Arbor area, including Toledo and Findlay, Ohio to learn Chinese.
“In a word, everyone is welcome,” she says.
A researcher at the University of Michigan for almost two decades, Chen has been on the Ann-Hua administrative team for many years with duties that includes two years as a language instructor.
Jiang Jiang has visions for even more expansion.
“Curricula have grown from only language instruction to a variety of culture, art and music and science classes for the Greater Ann Arbor area and beyond. Now the school is aiming at providing all those learning opportunities and cultural experiences to the public and larger community.”
Among those already in place are calligraphy, drawing, children’s choir, public speaking, Chinese knowledge, and (ability-level-tailored) math courses as well as entertainment events that have included food festivals, talent contests, culture camps, ice cream socials, soccer tournaments Chinese New Year celebrations and participation in local parades. Some events are charity fundraising benefits.
Luckily, some things haven’t changed, notably the school’s parent-driven aspect. Parents founded the school in 1993 and their contributions and involvement continue to be a vital aspect to success. Chen has been one of them from the start.
“I started out as a volunteer for Ann-Hua way before my two kids started kindergarten Chinese at Ann-Hua,” says Chen, who has lived in the U.S. for 30 years.. “One of my co-workers back then was the principal for the school, so I started helping out with documentation and translation. Then I got more involved on the administrative side, working with teachers on professional development and teaching quality improvement. I do all I can for the school because I care about the community.”
“I also wanted to be a good role model, showing my kids (now 20 and 18 years old) what difference a group of people with the same vision could make. Everyone matters and every little effort counts. Ann-Hua was not built in a day or by an on-looker. Everyone’s involvement makes a difference.”
What’s down the road for Ann-Hua in the way of growth and expansion? Plenty, Jiang Jaing hopes. Courses are held on the Washtenaw Community College campus, and one of his dreams, he says, is for the school to have its own building.
“Once we have our own place, we will be able not only to teach Chinese language and culture, but also provide more programs and services to the whole community, build up better environment and enable Chinese community to contribute more to the larger community.”
Ann-Hua holds classes on Sundays 9 a.m. – 6 p.m., at Washtenaw Community College from September to June.
4800 E Huron River Dr,, Ann Arbor, MI 48105.
For more information on Ann-Hua Chinese School (including online enrollment and a list of tuition costs):
visit www.annhua.org or on social media:
MAIN PHOTO: 2018 Chinese Culture Summer camp Thomas Wang playing Chinese chess with Xander Zhang while high school volunteer Yanbo watching
The Center for Immigration Studies (www.cis.org) is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit research organization devoted exclusively to research and policy analysis of the economic, social, demographic, fiscal, and other impacts of immigration on the United States.