Catherine Hwang and Harrison Tucker will be freshmen this fall at Northern High School. For an hour of every school day, they also will be college freshmen.
Catherine and Harrison are two of 36 Northern Hills Middle students who will enter Northern High’s inaugural semester of university-level Mandarin Chinese.
“I’m really excited about this, because I want to be a surgeon, and knowing other languages will open more opportunities,” said Catherine, who also speaks fluent Korean.
Harrison, whose out-of-school use of Mandarin is primarily limited to restaurants and good-natured subversive communication at home with his younger brother, Stewart, a seventh-grader in the program, envisions using his foreign language skills in China someday.
“I want to go into science, but be outside, doing something in the wilderness,” Harrison said. “It will be good to be able to go into different parts of the country outside the cities and be able to learn about the culture from the people who live there.”
Catherine, Harrison and a few dozen of their fellow Chinese Immersion students attended a signing recently at Northern to solidify their intentions.
The district entered into an agreement with Western Michigan University Extended University Programs to launch the Collegiate Pathways program at Northern, the first custom dual enrollment program of its kind for WMU.
The program allows Northern students to earn the full 23-credit Chinese language minor offered by WMU while still enrolled in high school.
Building on Immersion Program
The WMU program is the next step in the district’s K-8 Chinese Immersion program that began in 2008. That program currently has about 350 students districtwide, including those headed to the high school.
Edwin Martini, WMU associate dean of extended university programs, met with students and their parents at Northern High to introduce them to the program. He said the partnership with Forest Hills provides a model the university hopes will be used to deliver similar programs for other districts.
“Everything we’ve learned about what you’re doing with this (immersion) program is nothing short of amazing,” Martini told families. “If you’re feeling excited and a little bit scared, that’s okay. This will be challenging, but you are not in it alone.”
All classes will be taught by WMU instructors over the students’ four years in high school. To accommodate the combined schedules of the high school and university, each class will be delivered over the course of the academic year, spanning fall and spring semesters, but with an equivalent number of contact hours to the standard university course.