Tom Patterson reports on this month’s 20th anniversary celebrations of Huaxia Supplementary School
This year marks the 20th anniversary of Huaxia Supplementary School. Huaxia runs on Sunday mornings at the University of Manchester and is supported by both the council and the university. The teachers are all volunteers, many of whom are students at The University of Manchster. To celebrate this milestone achievement an event was held on the 11th of December at University Place, with speakers from Manchester City Council, the University of Manchester and the Chinese Consulate.
When the school began in 1996 there were only around 20 students. Since then it has grown substantially to approximately 400 and has a long waiting list for places each year. Cantonese supplementary schools did exist prior to 1996 in Manchester, but Huaxia was the first to teach Mandarin and simplified characters (the official language of mainland China). Headmistress Theresa Teng joined in 2003/4 when her son began attending classes and said that the school is “very strong in Mandarin and simplified characters,” and that today in many Chinese families “even if the first generation speaks Cantonese, they want the next generation to speak Mandarin.”
The school has won several awards for their excellent standard of teaching. In 2006, Huaxia was one of the first two schools to be granted a Supplementary School Quality Certificate by Manchester City Council. In addition to this, in 2009, Huaxia became one of the first three Chinese schools in the UK to be awarded Overseas Chinese Language Education Model School status by the Chinese State Council.
Most of the teachers don’t plan on pursuing teaching careers but instead come to the school with the aim of promoting Chinese heritage, culture and language. They are often university students who work with the school during their studies but after completing their degrees may get full time jobs or return to China. As a result of this, there are recruitment drives three or four times a year to combat the rapid turnover and part of the school’s success is with its training program.
Theresa said that they have an in-depth procedure for recruiting teachers including; “induction, probation and observation periods,” alongside yearly in-house training and support for teachers who want to attend other training sessions elsewhere in Manchester. They’ve also developed a resource bank where more experienced teachers contribute well-constructed and detailed lesson plans as a means of helping new starters to quickly adjust to the school’s teaching methods. Many of the teachers have no formal teaching experience so this kind of resource is invaluable for helping them to settle in and gain confidence in their ability and it’s clearly been very successful.
Nancy Guo works as a teacher during the week as well as at Huaxia at the weekend and her son Xingye Chen was one of the hosts at the event. She said that seeing the children improve their language skills was the most rewarding aspect of working in the school.
The school is not only for pupils with Chinese heritage but also welcomes other ethnicities with an interest in Chinese. This kind of approach is an excellent way of promoting understanding and interest in their multi-cultural landscape. It is run with a community-minded spirit and many former pupils return as teachers and helpers for events such as the one last Sunday.
The Chinese Consul General, Dr SUN Dali, gave a speech in Mandarin to mark the 20th anniversary. He said that in China the panda is considered a national treasure and so all the children at Huaxia are like pandas because they too are China’s treasure.
Jenny Patterson, the Safeguarding Lead for Education at Manchester City Council, had high praise for both the pupils and their teachers at Huaxia. She said that national research shows that children from supplementary schools “get better exam results,” not just in the language that the schools teach but in other subjects as well. She added that this is because schools such as Huaxia help pupils to gain self-confidence and pride in their language and heritage. She finished by saying that the council has “worked with [Huaxia] for the past twenty years and hope to be working with [Huaxia] for the next twenty years, at least.”
Also speaking at the event Yaron Matras, Professor of Linguistics at the University of Manchester, said: “Language opens up all the roads and entry points to the world and it is one of the most important skills that you can have.” Having a family or community connection to a multilingual environment is a big advantage in helping to cultivate that skill.
At the event pupils performed dances, poems and idiom stories, all in Mandarin starting from a beginner’s level up to AS and A2 (with translations given to the audience). Every pupil in the school took part in the performances, which Theresa highlighted as important, stating that she didn’t want it to become “a talent show for a small number of children.” This inclusive attitude is really at the heart of Huaxia and is tied in with helping pupils to express themselves in meaningful ways.
Two pupils led the school through the day’s programmes with confidence and enthusiasm. Xingye Chen and Sue Di announced the acts before they came on and provided running commentary between the performances to a lecture theatre packed with 400 of their fellow pupils and their parents and teachers (a task that most adults would shrink away from!) Despite the large and excited crowd they held their cool and delivered a well received commentary. They told The Mancunion that there hadn’t been much preparation on the day but there had been “a lot of learning of the script” beforehand. Although they played down their role, Headmistress Theresa assured us that they had gone above and beyond with all the lines they had to remember and the hard work that they had put in.
There were two prize draws strategically placed in the middle and at the end of the event and a menagerie of teddy bears, beasts and birds were given away to lucky raffle winners. The two that really caused a stir were a metre high teddy bear (taller than many of the children) and an equally sized panda teddy. The pupils, parents and teachers can rest assured that it was a roaring success and a shining example of community-run education at its best.