Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 11
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
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It’s New to Us by Jean Stratton

BILINGUAL LEARNING: “We are the only Chinese immersion language school in New Jersey. The concept of the school is language acquisition and cultural awareness, and this can lead to universal understanding,” says Joy Zhao, Director of YingHua Day School. Shown is a group of students at the school.

YingHua Day School in Princeton and Lawrenceville Offers Strong Bilingual English-Chinese Curriculum

“‘Ying’ means English, and ‘Hua’ means Chinese. Together, ‘YingHua’ means blossom, the essence of a plant, which is the best name for a Chinese-English bilingual school like YingHua Day School (YHDS),” explains Joy Zhao, director of the school.

Founded by Dr. Bonnie Liao in 2007 in Lawrenceville (she had also founded YingHua Language School in 2002), the non-profit, full-time private Chinese-English bilingual school added a Princeton campus last September. Located at the Lutheran Church of the Messiah, 407 Nassau Street, it serves children in grades pre-school through grade 6, and also offers an after-school program. The Lawrenceville campus is located at Lawrence Day School, 510 Lawrence Square Boulevard South, and serves children in pre-school, pre-Kindergarten, and after school.

“We started with 10 to 12 students in 2007, and we now have 45,” says Ms. Zhao, who came to the U.S. from China in 1995. She received a masters degree in elementary education from the University of Bridgeport and another masters in community counseling from Fairfield University, also in Connecticut.

“As we gained more students, we needed additional space. Princeton is the perfect backdrop for our school.”

Total Immersion

Total immersion in a language is the best way to learn, she explains, and this is the focus of YHDS. In the pre-school classes, 3-year-olds are fully involved in an all-Chinese environment. At four, when they advance to the pre-K level, English is introduced in the daily 30-minute circle time, and the majority of the day is spent immersed in Chinese, counting, singing, coloring, experimenting, and having fun.

In kindergarten and up, the instructional time spent in mandarin Chinese and English is gradually proportioned until the two languages are evenly split at the end of the elementary years. The typical kindergarten class includes English language arts, Chinese language arts, science, math, and extra-curricular activities, such as drama and martial arts.

The upper grades feature a low student-teacher ratio, a carefully-designed curriculum that includes the best of both Chinese and American educational systems, and a dedicated teaching staff.

Research has shown that this type of immersion program is the most effective way to produce bilingual proficiency, points out Ms. Zhao.

The importance of total immersion is especially apparent with Chinese, she adds. “Chinese is a category 3 language, as determined by the number of hours needed to spend learning a language. For native English speakers, it’s 2200 class hours to learn Chinese, as compared to 600 hours for Spanish.”

A significant part of YingHua Day School’s educational philosophy is the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum program, which aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who can help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.

Biggest Benefits

“Many parents like the fact that we are following the IB framework,” says Ms. Zhao. “Three things important to IB are an international perspective, student character development — we don’t just focus on isolated facts, we help students to become open-minded, caring, risk-takers, and to learn from others — and community service.

“The biggest benefits of our school are the opportunities to study the language at a very young age, and to study a language that can be very useful in the future,” she continues. “And it is an opportunity for students to interact with children different from themselves. Our students are from diverse cultural backgrounds, including American, Chinese, African-American, and others. It’s a wide spectrum. Some are Chinese children who were adopted by Americans, and they want the children to know the Chinese language. Others are first, second, and third-generation Chinese families, and they want their children to know Chinese. We also currently have 2 students from Singapore, whose parents are in the U.S. for two years.”

In the 2008-09 school year, 40 percent of YHDS families speak mandarin Chinese at home. 19 percent are Chinese-English bilingual families, with English as the main language. 35 percent are English-only families, and 6 percent of families speak a third language.

In addition to the basic curriculum, YHDS schedules outings and field trips for the students. Trips to the Whole Earth Center in Princeton, Howell Living History Farm, the New Jersey State Museum, and Philadelphia’s China Town have all been successful experiences.

Dual Language

The school also offers a 10-week all day summer camp, starting the end of June.

Ms. Zhao is an enthusiastic advocate of dual language education, and she sees it as her mission to create an environment that nurtures a strong sense of community — a community of compassionate learners with an international focus among children, families, and staff. “I think the best part of this job is that I get to work with some of the most wonderful people, including teachers and parents — and the students amaze us every day! The challenge is that everything is new. Because of that, it is also the opportunity to be a trailblazer and to lead.”

She adds that the school is seeking a permanent home with additional space. “Our plan is to continue through middle school, and we would also like to have a facility for a boarding school, and bring students here from China and other places.”

Currently, the Princeton campus is open from September to June, Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., with class hours 9 to 3:30. Lawrenceville is open 7:30 to 6. (732) 513-3034. Website:

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