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40 sign up to learn Chinese at DL High

China's growing economy and its global impact is contributing to the growing interest in its languages and culture.

About 40 Detroit Lakes High School students signed up for the Mandarin course that may be offered next year depending on funds and teacher availability.

The Minnesota Department of Education has been encouraging school districts statewide to consider adding a Chinese program, Superintendent Doug Froke said. State officials have also been working with Hanban -- Chinese Language Council International in Beijing -- on an agreement to bring foreign exchange teachers to the state.

The state is also offering a $12,000 annual incentive to participating districts to offset the costs of the program, he added.

But the district would have to come up with about $28,000 annually to hire the teacher, purchase the materials and sustain the program.

And in the midst of state budget woes, it's difficult for school officials to consider expanding. The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled this week that Gov. Tim Pawlenty's unallotment decisions were illegal, making it more difficult to balance the state budget.

"The Supreme Court's ruling has thrown the state's financial picture into a complete mess," Froke said. "So the school district can't really do much until that situation is resolved."

The program will have to be funded through donations or grants so it will need the community's support. Additionally, foreign exchange teachers will need host families to stay with.

A group of community members, led by Tom Faix, who are interested in adding the Chinese program, will hold a meeting Thursday, May 20 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Minnesota State Community and Technical College to see how much interest community members have in the program.

So far the district has an idea of level of interest students have, now it's time to see if the program has the community's support.

With 40 students registering, two sections of first year Chinese would have to be added to meet the demand, Principal Steve Morben said.

He added that any addition of foreign languages, besides Spanish that's currently offered, would contribute to the success and cultural diversity of the students. But students seem to be especially interested in the Chinese language and culture because of the country's economy and its impact on the United States.

"For most of the kids, that's probably a primary motivation," he said. "If they're looking at potential careers down the road in international business or business in general."

The final decision to add the program lies in the hands of the school board. Froke said it has not been discussed with the board yet, but will eventually come up at a future meeting.

"Let's put together the funding piece. Let's make it a quality experience for that teacher. And let's have questions answered before we implement the program," he said.