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Students' Year With Chinese Immersion Program

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) -- Some Minnesota kindergartners are about to complete their first year of school, and they did it all in Chinese.

At the start of the school year, WCCO visited the first class of students in the new Mandarin immersion program at Benjamin Mays Magnet in St. Paul. We went back to get a report card on the progress they've made.

Back in September, we could see it wasn't easy. Two weeks into school, the students appeared to be overwhelmed. Some had their heads down on their desks, they looked frustrated, and one student admitted, "I have no idea what to do."

Parent Stephen Lee told us it was stressful for his son Ben.

"Ben came home exhausted. He was tired, he wanted to quit. I was almost ready to throw in the towel saying, I don't know if that's for him."

But Lee's son stuck with it and so did the 16 other students in class. Parents say their kids have learned a lot.

"It's night and day," said Lee. "Now when you see it, the discipline, the way he learns, hits the assignments. The fact that his Chinese has exceeded our Chinese is pretty good, pretty impressive."

The students are very disciplined, reading, writing and speaking in Mandarin.

It's not just the language, but also a heavier concentration on math. Dorene Brookins says she's been surprised at how well her son Brouke has done in math.

"Some of the math my second-grader is doing my kindergartner is able to help him do," said Brookins. "And not like my second grader struggles with it, but my kindergartner knows how to do the same math."

If these kindergarteners stick with the program, they'll be bilingual by third grade, a valuable skill these parents believe will go far beyond the classroom.

Meegan Hall says her daughter Whitney took to the program right away.

"I think it opens a world of opportunities, the language does. I also think her confidence level that I've seen build over the last year, I think that's a very valuable important thing in life," said Hall. "No matter what she chooses to do she'll have that foundation."

The kindergartners have the option of staying in the Mandarin immersion program as they move on to first grade.

Principal Tyrone Brookins says the school is hoping to expand the program next year with two full classes of kindergartners.

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