FARMINGTON -- Davis School District recently became one of the first school districts in the country to be named a Confucius Institute by the Confucius Institute headquartered in Beijing.
With the designation comes almost $600,000 in grant money for the district's Chinese programs.
The Confucius Institute in Beijing gives the grant money to schools to continue promoting the study of the Chinese language and culture. In the past, the Confucius designations have been given to universities with prestigious programs. This is the first year the Chinese administration has opened it up to school districts in the United States.
"It is a great honor to be one of the very first to receive this award as this little place on the Wasatch Front that has become a mecca for Chinese learning," said Bonnie Flint, the district's Secondary World Language supervisor.
Flint said the Davis School District has more students studying Chinese and more guest teachers from China than any other district in the country.
The district has 16 Chinese foreign-language classes, four elementary school immersion programs and classes at four junior high schools and all eight high schools.
Ten of the 16 Chinese teachers the district employs are guest teachers from China.
The district didn't set out to become a center for Chinese learning 15 years ago when it began teaching the language at Kaysville Junior High, but the program grew quickly because of the tremendous response from parents.
"Our parents have been unusually supportive of the program, as they ensure Chinese stays at their schools," Flint said. "They see this as the language of the future for kids going into science, engineering, technology and math.
"Our parents get that we can't really prepare (students) for the 21st century if they don't have those skills of being bilingual and bicultural."
District officials are grateful they received the push from parents to grow the Chinese program over the years.
"The most exciting thing for me is that our students can be so engaged in Mandarin Chinese," said Superintendent Bryan Bowles.
"It is a hot language to learn these days and gives them a leg up on resumes and in college to have that Chinese background.
"It is also going to become more and more critical as students go on to do international business in our global economy."
The three-year grant will be disbursed in $190,000 increments.
The district plans to use the money to create a stronger curriculum and provide additional training for their Chinese teachers.
It will also be building language labs for as many of the Chinese classrooms as possible.
The district submitted its application to the Confucius Institute in Beijing in March and learned of the award in August.
The first round of funds will be distributed this winter.
Officials plan to install four language labs this school year, four more next summer, then another four during summer 2014.
Lan-Jy Duke, a Chinese teacher at Syracuse Junior High, knows the Confucius Institute designation will benefit her students.
"It will strengthen our Chinese program in our district and benefit more students in learning the language, as well as benefiting our state economics in the future," she said.
"With the funds, my Chinese program students can enjoy 16 laptops, 20 iPads, an interactive whiteboard and hosting Chinese students from China."
Confucius once said, "Among any three people, there must be one who can be my teacher."
Duke believes the quote properly fits her classroom as she helps her students learn the language and culture.
"We expect everyone can learn from one another and make one another strong."