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Willmar's popular Chinese language class gets a major boost

Todd Lynum teaches Chinese during class Jan. 27 at Willmar Senior High School as a camera crew, not pictured, documents the process. The footage was featured in a documentary produced by the Asia Society in New York City. Willmar's Chinese language program will see a change this year as a teacher from China will arrive here mid-August and will work side by side with Lynum. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

Willmar Senior High is one of 10 high schools in the nation to receive a U.S. State Department grant to host a native-speaking Chinese teacher for the next school year.

A teacher from China will arrive in Willmar in mid-August and will work with Willmar teacher Todd Lynum in his Chinese language classes.

The cost of the visiting teacher's time here will be funded by the Teachers of Critical Languages Program. The Critical Languages Program is three years old, and Willmar is the first school in the state to participate, Lynum said Thursday.

"We're just ecstatic about having a native-speaking teacher from China," said Senior High Principal Rob Anderson.

The visiting teacher will be team teaching with Lynum.

Willmar's growing Chinese program will be aided greatly by the addition of a second teacher next year. Anderson said the program has quadrupled since it started in January 2007.

Some of the Chinese classes next year will have more than 30 students. "We'll be able to give students a lot more attention," Lynum said.

In particular, two teachers will be able to give students more speaking practice, he added.

Anderson gave Lynum credit for writing a grant application that described the community and the growth of Willmar's 2½-year-old Chinese language program.

Lynum in turn said credit also goes to Anderson and to Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard who supported his efforts in applying for the grant.

In the application, he described Willmar as a great place to live, and he wrote about the warm welcome visiting Chinese teachers have received from Willmar students.

"There was never any doubt in my mind" that students would be supportive, Lynum said.

The reaction of the students who will be back next year didn't disappoint him. "They were thrilled" when he told them about the grant, he said.

The grant "is a real tribute to both our kids and to Todd," Anderson said.

On the last day of school, while they made wontons in Lynum's class, students said they are looking forward to taking more Chinese classes next year.

"We already had two (visiting teachers) this year," said Megan Baker, who will be a sophomore next year. "You actually get to hear how they speak."

Azanette Medrano, a junior next year, said she expects that the visiting teacher will be able to answer lots of questions about China and help the students with speaking.

The Teachers of Critical Languages Program will conduct a two-week orientation for the Chinese teachers in Washington, D.C., in August. Anderson and Lynum will be attending to meet the teacher and get acquainted. The program will pay their travel expenses.

The program urges school districts and the visiting teachers to extend their reach beyond the school building.

The visiting teacher will be invited to go to the district's other schools and may also be available to speak to organizations in the community. "This is a community event, not just a school event," Lynum said.

Lynum said the program often chooses teachers who are English teachers in China. Some have also taught Chinese to foreigners.

"It will be a great learning experience for that teacher as well," Anderson said.

Lynum, who has lived in China and in several other countries, said he looks forward to helping the visitor learn about U.S. culture. He'll also be on watch for signs of homesickness and will try to help the teacher stay in touch with family back home.