By Nicole Gugino OBSERVER Assistant News Editor
SILVER CREEK There is something new at Silver Creek elementary and it has all the students saying, "Ni hao!"
As part of an agreement with the Confucius Institute at the University at Buffalo, Silver Creek is able to offer Chinese to its elementary students at minimal cost to the district.
Zhao Shuo, the Chinese teacher at Silver Creek Elementary School, helps this first-grader introduce herself using a cartoon queue card.
"When I first started in August (Superintendent) David O'Rourke had initial conversations about it and then in March it was confirmed and the board (of education) approved agreement. The Confucius Institute at UB is the host agency and (Zhao Shuo) is like a consultant with the district," Elementary School Principal Scott Rudnicki said.
He explained the agreement is for three years and the district is only responsible for fees associated with the visa process and paying the difference of what a first year teacher makes and what the Confucius Institute provides, which amounts to about $2,500 per year.
"We hope to be able to extend the agreement after the three years but we will take the first three for now," Rudnicki added.
Since Chinese Teacher Zhao Shuo's arrival, the school has given her a warm welcome.
Rudnicki said the school first welcomed her with an assembly and then with other kind acts.
"She is staying with one of our other teachers who agreed to host her while we find her an apartment," he explained, saying others have contributed to a furniture bank to help her furnish her apartment when she can move in.
He added he has gotten great feedback from the students about the school's new course offering.
"All of the students have gotten really involved in welcoming her. We did posters with the signs of the zodiac that everybody signed and are hanging in the library. Students are really excited to learn something new that is not familiar to them and they have welcomed her very warmly. The first day the students had her class they greeted me in the hall with 'ni hao' (hello)," he said.
Sitting in on one of Zhao's classes, there were a lot of "ni hao's" to be heard as Brittany Jahreis's first-grade students learned to say "thank you" and "you're welcome" in Chinese as well as introduce themselves to others.
Zhao said she is from Beijing, where she previously taught foreign students Chinese at Capital Normal University.
Although Zhao said Silver Creek is very different from the hustle and bustle of the city, she said likes the peace and quiet of the rural community as well as the friendly people.
Right now she teaches 16 classes in Kindergarten through second grade during their special period of the day. Rudnicki explained after the holiday break the fourth, fifth and sixth graders will also have classes with Zhao.
She said she is working with the students on pronunciation, writing, grammar and vocabulary for family, counting, telling time, animals and body parts.
She said the teaching method in the U.S. is much different from what she experienced in elementary school in China.
"The method of teaching is very different from in Chinese elementary schools. Where here there is only one teacher for all of the subjects, in China there is a teacher for each subject. And here there are more activities teachers do with students," she explained, saying it is more a lecture-style of learning.
She said by the end of the year she hopes students will be able to speak correctly, recognize Chinese characters, write in Chinese, greet others and introduce themselves and their family in Chinese.
She also said she will be introducing the students to some Chinese culture through activities in traditional Chinese paper cutting, Chinese knots, kung fu and Chinese calligraphy.
After Zhao's class, students filed out with stickers marking their achievement in learning to introduce themselves to a friend.
For more information on the Confucius Institute, go to www.confuciusinstitute.buffalo.edu.
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