By Ling-Mei Wong
Boston Renaissance Charter Public School is not your average school.
Located in Hyde Park, classes include art, music and Mandarin. The goal is to develop a well-rounded Renaissance child.
Kindergarten students can sing the “Nihao Song” together, compare their heights and discuss the weather. “It’s raining! Xia yu le!” was repeated with gusto during a recent lesson.
The Mandarin program was launched in 2009 for 88 K1 and K2 students, taught by Jinhui Xu, the school’s director of global outreach. Today, 710 out of 944 students take Mandarin at Boston’s largest elementary school. The program will be expanded to every grade — from kindergarten to sixth — in 2015.
“I thought it was important to learn Mandarin for the role China plays in the world economy,” said Roger Harris, superintendent of Boston Renaissance. “It’s important to learn the culture and respect for Chinese culture and language. Students can learn the language and culture for an economic perspective. Too often, urban students are not exposed to Mandarin. We recognize the value of the language.”
As the students develop cultural awareness, the school plans to add a civics component to Chinese class.
“In the future, we hope students understand the history of the Chinese in America,” Harris said. “There are not very many schools that discuss the role of the Chinese people in U.S. history and development.”
Boston Renaissance opened in 1995 at 250 Stuart Street, then moved to Hyde Park in 2010. Its student body is 66 percent African American, 28 percent Hispanic and 82 percent qualify for free or reduced lunch. In addition to the arts, music and Mandarin classes, the school also provides free on-site medical, dental and vision services, to remove barriers to learning.
“Renaissance focuses on a holistic philosophy, going beyond English language arts, math and science,” Harris said. “We believe in educating the whole child.”