In the Classroom: Mastering Chinese

Students enrolled in the Foothill Chinese School in La Cañada Flintridge were busy working with construction paper during a class session Friday afternoon for a skill mastered centuries ago.

Chinese paper art, which dates back to ancient China, is one of many projects the school offers, allowing students to learn and preserve their Chinese heritage.

Founded in 2006 by four parents, the school teaches Mandarin and offers other cultural programs. The school began with only 10 students and now enrolls about 70 to 80 students. Classes are held Monday to Friday after regular school hours, up from one two-hour session on Thursday afternoons.

"I think everyone has some nature in them to learn another culture and another language," said Foothill Chinese School Principal and teacher Holly Huiyi Li. "The parents are so supportive. They think it's important for their kids to keep their Chinese culture."

The school provides full immersion in Chinese history, literature, art, games, plays and food. The nonprofit school is housed in five classrooms near the headquarters of the La Cañada Unified School District. The school previously had classrooms at the city's Community Center.

"My family, all their generations have been Chinese," said student Stephen Zhu, 9. "I speak Chinese to them; some of them don't know English."

Learning and preserving their Chinese language allows students to translate for their parents if they do not know English well, Li said.

For Julia Liu, 12, being enrolled in the Chinese school allows her to learn about her family's heritage, something she said she feels proud of.

"I like making new friends and learning about the culture," she said. "I wouldn't have known about my parents and how they learned and how they had a harsher environment than we did."

Shirun Dong, whose grandkids Noah and Emily Truong are enrolled at the school, said it is important for students to learn about China's 2,500-year history.

"I would like my grandchildren to keep part of the Chinese culture," Dong said. "Sometimes there's a difference from the Eastern [Chinese] culture and the Western [Chinese] culture. If the kids learn both cultures, it would be a great benefit."

Mui Pang, one of five teachers at the school, sees the school as an opportunity for students to get ahead, especially when it comes to future employment opportunities.

"They have more chances to do the different kinds of jobs," she said. "That's going to help them if they can have a chance to learn more of the culture. That's why we teach them in Chinese to bring back the culture."

Most of the students at the school were born in the United States but have been raised in Chinese-speaking households, Pang added.

For more information on Foothill Chinese School, call (818) 209-1133 or visit

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