NORTH OGDEN — Sz-yu Chen spent Tuesday hanging banners and signs with Chinese characters in her new classroom at Bates Elementary School.
“I’m very nervous,” said Chen, 25 and a recent arrival from her native Taiwan. Chen will be teaching Chinese to first-graders. She will share her 51 students with first-grade teacher Amber Booth, a Bates Elementary veteran who teaches in English and who doesn’t know Chinese.
“She will speak only in Chinese,” Booth said of her co-teacher. “The kids can’t know she speaks English.”
(So don’t tell.)
“I just know a little English,” Chen said.
The 51 students will be divided into two groups and will switch between their co-teachers’ classrooms once a day. Chen will teach math and Chinese. Booth will teach all other subjects and will make sure students know the English words for the math terms they use, such as “equation.”
“So I will be teaching my curriculum to twice as many students in half the time,” Booth said, laughing. “I actually volunteered to co-teach with Evelyn (the first name Chen gives to people who struggle with Sz-yu) because I taught English in Taiwan one summer, and I thought it would be a good match.”
School begins today for Weber School District’s 30,400 students, who attend six high schools, 10 junior highs and 29 elementary schools. Teachers all over the district spent the day before school putting finishing touches on their classrooms.
More than 690 students attend North Ogden’s Bates Elementary.
“It’s a big job, getting things ready for the school year,” said Bates Principal Kitty Barney. “We have to make sure all the students are registered and make sure we have enough teachers. We have an amazing secretary who helps order supplies for teachers and helps the classes set up.
“We had a faculty meeting on Monday, and talked about procedures and expectations for students and teachers. We have an amazing custodian who makes sure the school is clean. I met with the lunch lady today, for an hour and a half. And I will meet with the PTA, and the parents who spend so much time volunteering.”
And that’s just scratching the surface of what it takes to get one school ready for students.
And that’s just one district.
• Morgan County School District classes begin Thursday in the district’s four schools.
• Ogden School District classes begin Monday in the district’s 20 general and special-purpose schools.
• Box Elder School District classes begin Aug. 29 in the district’s 24 schools.
• Davis County School District classes begin Sept. 4 in the district’s 86 schools.
Barney said people who get into education tend to be a dedicated lot.
“We’re a team,” she said, of her faculty, staff and volunteers. “We couldn’t do it without everyone who helps. We have lots of committees, lots of meetings with people, but life is great. It’s a great day at Bates. That’s on our letterhead.”
And Chen is excited about her latest great adventure.
“When I was young, I just wanted to travel around the world,” she said. “I thought teaching was the most possible way.”
She has taught in Taiwan and in Vietnam. In America, she had her choice of working in Utah or Detroit.
“Utah is for me,” she said. “I am not a city girl. Utah has a lot of nature here, for biking and hiking.”
Booth said parents and students all seemed to be excited about the creation of another immersion school in the Weber School District. People who are bilingual will have advantages in their future careers, Booth said.
Chen will stay a year, then apply for a permit to stay longer, she said. She’ll stick to Chinese during classes, but also hopes to work on her own English.
“I can barely understand the words people tell me about,” she said, although she answered every question posed with finesse.
“I will try my best.”