Maryland Community Center Teaches Chinese through STEM Fields

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by Melissa Newcomb
STARTALK students complete a science experiment using Chinese language in Frederick, Maryland. Photo: Asian American Center of Frederick.

For the past three years, the Asian American Center of Frederick (AACF) in Maryland has held a free Chinese Mandarin language course for fourth through seventh graders, designed to integrate STEM  fields of study (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics). The two-week language course is free and funded by the STARTALK grant, a federal program funded by the National Security Agency to offer courses to levels K-16 in languages such as Chinese that are less-commonly taught.

Elizabeth Chung, Executive Director and founder of AACF, told Asia Matters for America that the Frederick Chinese language program began in 2006. Originally it was a summer camp in the Maryland Summer Centers for the Gifted. Due to the success of the program, Frederick County Public Schools approached AACF and asked for help to develop a Chinese language curriculum. AACF and Frederick County jointly applied for and received the STARTALK grant in 2007.

Administered by the University of Maryland College Park and the National Foreign Language Center, STARTALK grants are five-year contracts awarded on an annual cycle. Programs must meet the professional standards of the Association Council of Teachers of Foreign Languages.From 2008-2011, Chung taught Chinese in Frederick County high school until budget cuts closed the program.

Chung decided to continue Mandarin language courses independently from the Frederick school system, however, and in 2012 began the Chinese summer course incorporating STEM subjects. As an immigrant from Hong Kong, Chung is dedicated to teaching Chinese because of her heritage, but also feels that it is important for Americans to learn Mandarin to boost their global competitiveness. From multiple programs in public and private schools, as well as its independently run courses, AACF has taught about 1,000 students over the last eight years.

 In terms of future plans, AACF is looking to extend summer courses into the fall and work with colleges to provide distance learning to Frederick County students. Training a new generation of Americans to become Chinese language teachers is another long-term goal. 

 Aside from providing Chinese language instruction, AACF runs a wide range of programs for Asian American and other minority communities, such as translation services, English-as-a-second-language courses, and citizenship exam preparation. One event, the annual Frederick Community Health Fair, took place on October 18th this year. The Health Fair brings together medical service providers, local businesses, and organizations to provide free health care consultations to the general public.

 Melissa Newcomb recently graduated from American University SIS and is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington, D.C.