Future of Chinese 1-4 uncertain amid lack of interest

The full Chinese language pathway — classes 1 through 4 — will no longer be offered at TPHS in the 2023-2024 school year following inadequate interest, however, additional course options are being explored, according to TPHS Principal Rob Coppo.

The Chinese language pathway at TPHS has faced a series of debates over whether or not to include its introductory classes; for the most part, insufficient interest has led to the classes from being offered. A phase-out of Chinese 3 classes in April 2022 resulted in only one section of AP Chinese being offered in the 2022-2023 school year. However, a recommendation by district leadership in February 2023 placed Chinese 1 through 4 classes on the course selection sheet for the upcoming school year. District administrators did not respond to the Falconer’s request for further information.

“I deferred to [district] judgment and so we [put Chinese 1 through 4 back on the course selection],” Coppo said. “We got the same numbers [of interested students]. [We realized that] we didn’t have the sections to support it. So, we [decided to] go back to how it was before.”

Course selection responses for the upcoming 2023-2024 school year revealed a total of 20 to 26 student sign-ups across all four sections of Chinese 1 through 4 combined.

“About a month ago we made the decision: look, we’re not gonna be able to run this because we’ve got over a decade’s worth of data of those numbers being the same,” Coppo said. “We made the decision to meet with those students to find another option for them.”

Following the closure of the introductory pathway classes, students who chose a Chinese 1 through 4 class for the 2023-2024 school year were brought back into the counselor’s office to rearrange their schedules. In accordance with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act confidentiality provision, the Falconer was unable to contact those students.

“The kids were great about it. Every single student was like, ‘I get it,’ signed up for another class and we moved on. So, fortunately, the students are good,” Coppo said. “Parents are frustrated because they wanted their students to be able to take it.”

However, within the past two weeks, SDUHSD Associate Superintendent for Educational Services, Bryan Marcus, contacted TPHS administration and expressed the district’s recommendation that TPHS “explore the option of additional [Chinese] classes,” according to Coppo. The number of classes or the structure of classes is still under consideration by TPHS administration and the district. However, with the current number of students who had signed up for the four introductory classes, it is likely that any introductory sections of Chinese that are opened would have a class size of approximately 10 students.

“It’s not normal for a class [to run with such a small class size],” Coppo said. “For example, Chorus is probably higher, but we’re not going to be running Chorus. Bringing back a class of 10 is unusual.”

Chair of the World Language department and French teacher Jessica Huntsberger similarly expressed that she has never seen such a proposition in her department before.

“Obviously, we’re a world language department. We want everybody to learn the language that they would like to learn, and we are just trying to match our offerings to student demand,” Huntsberger said. “I would be very supportive of opening a class with seven or 11 people if it were, say, Chinese 3, and if Chinese 1 was just booming, and the demand was huge, I think it would make sense.”

But, with low current interest in the program, Huntsberger said she is unsure if the program can grow.

This is the growth pattern TPHS has tried to establish since the Chinese program was introduced over 10 years ago. However, according to Coppo and Huntsberger, student interest in the classes has remained low.

“I think there has always been a lack of interest in [Chinese],” Annie Zhang (11), who is currently taking AP Chinese, said. “More students are willing to learn Spanish and French.”

Coppo attributes this lack of interest most directly to the consistent presence of off-campus options for Chinese language education.

“Not a lot of our world languages have such a robust off-site offering. So I think there’s some head-scratching, confusion, with families going, why can’t we just have it at Torrey?” Coppo said. “They’re not seeing the impact of the off-site [options]. It’s because students aren’t signing up for it.”

That said, the recent recommendation by the district to re-explore the option of additional classes was, in part, according to Coppo, a result of “parent and community input.”

The state of Chinese classes at TPHS has, throughout the past year, been a consistent topic of debate at SDUHSD school board meetings. Numerous parents have commented publicly at meetings in support of reopening introductory Chinese classes, frequently arguing the large, and exponentially growing, population of Mandarin speakers in the district.

However, Huntsberger stressed that not offering the course was only a result of low interest.

“I [feel there is] a community perception that we are somehow preventing something that there’s a huge demand for, while the facts speak for themselves … that numbers for introductory Chinese classes fall short after two or three years and are not sustainable,” Huntsberger said.

As of now, TPHS administrators and district officials are waiting to see how enrollment in Chinese courses changes in the coming months before final course offerings are finalized.

In terms of what is certain for the 2023-24 school year, AP Chinese teacher Lu Qi confirmed that administration has “decided not to continue [her] contract next year.”

That said, students hope for the best for the Chinese program.

“I do wish there was an extended program of Chinese class for other students who are interested,” Lauren Suh (10), who is currently taking AP Chinese, said. “I hope that in the future, the classes will come back to Torrey Pines.”

Read on Issuu.

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