Mandarin in Shoreline Schools survives through Hua Zhang

Monday, July 3, 2023

Hua Zhang, a longtime Shoreline resident and Mandarin teacher
By Estelle Lee

In her 22 years of living in Shoreline, Hua Zhang has served the community as a dedicated teacher of Chinese Mandarin since 2006. That year, Hua started Shoreline School District’s first Mandarin program with classes and before and after-school clubs at Meridian Park Elementary School.

Since then, Hua has been key in expanding the education of Chinese language and culture to the rest of Shoreline. When Mandarin classes started at Shoreline middle and high schools in 2013, the district’s PIO Craig Degginger told Hua she “should be proud of the role [she] played in establishing [the interest in Mandarin] throughout the district.”

Hua presents at Ridgecrest Elementary School
Beyond schools, Hua has brought Mandarin to other community spaces for Shoreline area residents. For the King County Library System, Hua hosts weekly online Chinese story times (available here) that were in-person prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In the last two years, she has also shared Lunar New Year presentations for King County libraries and City of Shoreline staff on Zoom, when she could no longer dance for celebrators in person.
Chinese story time at Shoreline Library
Hua also adapted to the screen in Shorewood High School’s 2019-2020 Mandarin IV class. It was the last year of Shoreline’s secondary school Mandarin programs, canceled due to low enrollment. 

Hua shares stories from behind her computer screen

Hua began teaching that year when two previous Mandarin teachers at Shorewood had left for different jobs. It was difficult for the district to find someone who would teach for one year at a canceled Mandarin program. 

Luckily, Hua stepped in. “Over half Shorewood Mandarin IV students started Mandarin learning with me when they were [in elementary school],” she shared.
Hua shows her Mandarin IV students how to make dumplings
Thinking about her Shorewood students, Hua added: “The last Mandarin class for Mandarin IV students, I tried to smile at my students as [usual], but I teared like rain in front of students during the Zoom class. My heart was painful to say goodbye to those wonderful students … who have been so eager to learn more.”

Hua sends her Shorewood students a virtual message during online school
Unfortunately, similar online alternatives for Hua’s elementary before and after-school programs were difficult to replicate when COVID-19 sent students into lockdown. The children no longer had the face-to-face conversations necessary in practicing the complex language.

Hua teaching at Meridian Park pre-pandemic
With Shoreline’s programs stopped indefinitely at all levels, Hua began teaching Mandarin at North Seattle’s Lakeside School in 2022. There, she continued to incorporate her passion for Chinese culture — cooking dumplings, grinding ink from inkstone, making lanterns, parading under a dragon for Lunar New Year — into her curriculum.
Hua puts up artwork on Lakeside's walls
Hua's finished display at Lakeside Middle School
Not only did Hua introduce Lakeside students to cultural events that most had never participated in before, she touched hearts and inspired a deeper love for Chinese culture. 

One of her middle school students was unable to come to school for some time because of a sick relative. Still, a day after his loved one passed, he asked his mom to be rushed back to Seattle from out of town because he had been looking forward to Hua’s Lunar New Year dragon dance parade.

Lakeside middle schoolers get ready for their dragon parade
At Lakeside, Hua grew just as much as her students. She explained that she never felt like a teacher but “a freshman” with all that she learned. 

“In the first few months, I woke up at 3am every morning to explore and try new instructional techniques and create new modules and new curriculums for class,” she remembered. At the end of her time at the school, Hua even created a memory book as a gift for her middle school students.

Hua writes New Year Blessings to
Lakeside faculty and students during lunch
But this March, Hua’s popular Mandarin programs have finally returned to Shoreline -- at Meridian Park Elementary where her journey began. 

Hua credits the school’s PTSA volunteers who have been dedicated to supporting Mandarin classes since the beginning. 

“It has been my pleasure to work with Shoreline school kids again,” she said.
Hua with Meridian Park students at
this year’s multicultural festival 

With her Meridian Park programs back up and running, Hua has quickly immersed herself back into work with the elementary students. 

Her dedication was evident in Meridian Park’s multicultural festival earlier this month. 

Students sang and danced happily to Chinese rhymes and songs like “Two Tigers,” “Hello,” and “Listen to Me, Thank You!”
Hua walks her new Meridian Park students
to the school’s multicultural festival

Students perform “Listen to Me, Thank You!”

Besides Meridian Park’s principal and a class parent volunteer, Hua’s former student Liz Bennett stood by the end of the stage to congratulate the young performers. Liz found her passion for Mandarin in elementary school under Hua’s guidance when she did the same performance. 

For the past three years, Liz has continued to learn Mandarin herself outside of school.

Liz Bennett in elementary school performs with the group

Liz back at Meridian Park for this year’s multicultural festival

Liz is a testament to one of Hua’s chief teaching philosophies. Hua believes that students can better engage with Mandarin when introduced from a young age, during their most crucial period of language development. To encourage students toward a lifetime of learning Mandarin, Hua is currently thinking through an immersion Montessori Mandarin program for preschoolers.

 Hua with beginning Mandarin students

Though Mandarin is no longer offered in Shoreline middle and high schools, Hua has not lost hope for older students. She is determined to fight for the language in the Shoreline School District, no matter how many setbacks she expects. 

“I am like [the programs’] mother. I hope it survives the most,” Hua explained. “This is my persistent love and responsibility to Shoreline students, as well as the eternal belief and pursuit of sharing Chinese language, culture, and art in my heart. Even if there is only one child in Shoreline who wants to learn Mandarin, I will help.”


Anonymous,  July 5, 2023 at 8:25 AM  

Hua is a gem. Shoreline's kids are so lucky.

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