Farragut connection huge part of East Tennessee Chinese School at PSCC

Three distinguished Farragut residents, one a nationally recognized ORNL nuclear astrophysicist and the others professors at The University of Tennessee-Knoxville, have helped East Tennessee Chinese School thrive.

Chinese-American youth from Farragut, ages 5 to 18, comprise a high percentage of students attending ETCS, with total enrollment at the three-hour weekly school at 81 during fall semester at its home, Pellissippi State Community College.

If you assume that Chinese-American children living in Farragut and Knox County are well-versed in Chinese culture, “You would be wrong,” said Dr. Jun Lin, an animal science professor at UTK and a Farragut resident since 2004 who is a former principal at the school. Lin’s son began at ETCS in 2005 at age 5. He currently has two children attending ETCS.

Lin’s wife, moreover, has been a language teacher at ETCS for “three or four years,” he said.

Started in 1994 in Oak Ridge to teach Chinese language and cultural skills, ETCS has been based at PSCC since 2000. It runs from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. each Sunday, except for holidays and other seasonal breaks. Chinese language classes run two hours followed by a one-hour culture class.

Among the 81 students, “a little more than 10 percent would be those from a non-Chinese background,” said Dr. Feng Chen, a professor in UTK plant sciences and ETCS principal for 2016-17 school year. Living in Farragut since 2005, it was that same year his 5-year-old son started at ETCS. He now has three children attending ETCS. Chen’s wife also is a language teacher at the school.

Chinese-American children “live here every day and they’re impacted by the other kids,” Lin said about how they might be drawn away from Chinese culture and language. “They haven’t had enough of a [Chinese cultural] alternative, particularly for their reading and their writing. And this is a major part of the Chinese school. They can learn at different levels.”

“The Chinese parents would like their kids to talk to their grandparents,” said Dr. Michael Smith, a nuclear astrophysicist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and a Chinese martial arts instructor at ETCS. “And would like them to also be exposed to things they wouldn’t be exposed to in the local school system like Chinese dancing or Chinese martial arts.”

Chess also is taught among the culture class discipline.

Within the language class discipline, “There are different levels, from Level 1 to Level 10,” Lin said. “The youngest ones are around 5,” with the oldest ETCS students 17 to 18 similar to high school.

“The culture classes are really nice because the kids really work hard on their language lessons for two hours,” Smith said. “They get a little bit restless, so I get them at the end of that.

“… And then there’s dancing classes for the young ladies. They get to twirl and whirl and wear costumes. It’s a nice compliment to the classroom work that they are doing,” added Smith, who earned a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers from former President Bill Clinton in 1996, an award given annually to the most promising young scientist in the United States across all fields of science.

Smith also is producer of annual East Tennessee Chinese New Years Festival.

For more information on East Tennessee Chinese School, go to http://knoxvillechineseculture.org/LANGUAGE/language.html