As students at Heritage Elementary school in Bibb County got settled in for the new year, one new member to the teaching staff was also getting settled in to her classroom.
"This is to decorate the classroom and show to my students," said Shengnan Huang as she prepared to hang red tissue cutouts and calligraphy on her walls.
Huang is one of 24 Chinese graduate students who were brought to Bibb County through the Confucius Institute to teach Mandarin in primary grades.
At Heritage, all students in pre-kindergarten through 3rd will learn Mandarin this year.
"She is just wonderful. Our parents have been very excited, our students very excited about her teaching Mandarin Chinese," said principal Jennifer Sadler.
The initiative to teach Mandarin throughout the district is part of the Macon Miracle strategic plan. Earlier this year, it raised questions from parents about the wisdom of widespread Mandarin instruction as opposed to Spanish, concerns about learning the language of a Communist nation, and further concerns about taking positions from American teachers.
But Sadler says Heritage elementary parents and students embrace the change.
"We have 100 percent at this point that are very excited about their children participating," said Sadler. "We had one parent that had a concern. After I met with her, some of the things we had in place to help the new teacher get used to being in the system, she changed her mind and is willing to let her child participate, so it's been nothing but positives."
Huang says she received training to teach in an American system, but she admits there are aspects of her new position that still make her nervous.
"First is communication. Maybe sometimes I can't make them understand me," she said. "Second is, I never teach American children, although I have taught two American exchange students, but they're all adults."
Asked whether she thought she could teach American students, Huang said, "Yeah, of course! And I'm sure I can make my children love Chinese."
Sadler said she's giving Huang time to set up since she didn't get to the district until Wednesday, but Mandarin instruction should start this week.