“At a Chinese restaurant recently, I overheard some of our students speak to the waitress in Chinese,” said Madison County Schools Superintendent Tommy Floyd.

“That would never have happened without our Chinese language program.”

Floyd spoke at a farewell luncheon for Qu Xiaohua, who came to Kentucky from China to teach at Madison Central and Model Laboratory high schools this past year.

“I hope we can repeat this program next year,” “Floyd said, “because I want to see it expand and become permanent.”

A survey of Madison Central students listed additional foreign languages as their top request, the superintendent said.

“I’m glad that we were able to give them something as special as Chinese language instruction with a native speaker,” Floyd said.

The Madison County program was one of nine conducted this year under an agreement between the Chinese government and the Kentucky Department of Education, said Dr. Sherwood Thompson, director of teacher admission and certification at Eastern Kentucky University.

Madison County schools and EKU shared the cost of an $8,000 stipend for Xiaohua, who divided her days between Madison Central and Model.

The district also shared with Berea College the cost of a Chinese teacher who taught half days at Madison Southern High School.

As many as 12 Kentucky school districts could have Chinese language programs next year, Thompson said.

“This program is much more than another cultural exchange,” he said. “It’s about preparing our students to succeed in the global economy.”

International commerce also if far more than speaking to Chinese restaurant staff in their native language, Thompson said.

“Kentucky is the top U.S. exporter to China, and Mandarin Chinese is becoming an important language of international commerce,” he said.

Richmond-based Lectrodryer, which exports to China, has been a strong supporter of Kentucky’s language instruction program, Thompson said.

“Within the next two years, I hope EKU and the Madison County Schools can reach an exchange agreement with both a Chinese university and local school district,” he said. “Our goal is to create a program that starts our students learning Chinese as early as kindergarten.”

Chinese is a complicated language with more than 30,000 characters, and learning it is a long process, Xiaohua said.

Her 25 Madison Central students mastered about 60 characters, she said.

The teacher learned as well.

“Your English improved dramatically while you were here,” said Madison Central Principal Gina Lakes, who praised Xiaohua’s teaching skills and commitment to helping her students succeed.

“Regardless of culture or nationality, good teachers love to teach and do whatever they can to see their students achieve,” Lakes said. “We’ve certainly seen that in Qu Xiaohua.”

Xiaohua said she also picked up some American slang in Kentucky.

“Now I know what ‘La La Land’ means,” she said.

Xiaohua’s Chinese nickname is “Qu Qi,” which is pronounced like “Chi Chi.”

“That was much easier for my American friends to pronounce and also helped me feel more at home,” she said.

While in the United States, Xiaohua attended horse races at Keeneland in Lexington and visited as far as Chicago and New York City, where she saw a Broadway production of “Phantom of the Opera.”

“We know Qu Xiaohua will be a goodwill Ambassador for Kentucky when she gets back to China,” Thompson said.

Bill Robinson can be reached at brobinson@richmondregister.com or at 623-1669, Ext. 267.

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