Public schools in Macon, Ga., and surrounding Bibb County have a lot of problems. Most of the 25,000 students are poor enough to qualify for free and reduced lunch, and about half don't graduate.
Bibb County's Haitian-born superintendent Romain Dallemand came into the job last year with a bag of changes he calls "The Macon Miracle." There are now longer schools days, year-round instruction, and one mandate nobody saw coming: Mandarin Chinese for every student, pre-K through 12th grade.
"Students who are in elementary school today, by 2050 they'll be at the pinnacle of their career," Dallemand says. "They will live in a world where China and India will have 50 percent of the world GDP. They will live in a world where, if they cannot function successfully in the Asian culture, they will pay a heavy price."
This school year, Dallemand is rolling out Mandarin in stages, a few sessions a week, with the youngest kids starting first. In three years, it will be at every grade level.
Chinese Isn't Just For High Achievers
Instructors and other young teachers from China are being provided to Bibb County schools by a nearby Confucius Institute, one of a number of nonprofit cultural centers partially funded by the Chinese government. Beijing wants to spread Mandarin abroad, and at just $16,000 per instructor per year, the price is right for Dallemand.
"Well, it's a win-win for everyone," he says.
But not everyone in Bibb County sees it that way.
Some parents see a Communist regime enacting its geopolitical agenda on their children. The more common critique, however, is not political. It is the practical concern. Read more at KERA News.