The phrase "Laosh hao," which means, "Hello, teacher" in Mandarin Chinese, was repeated many times last week in first-grade classes at the New Albany K-1 elementary building.

The phrase "Laosh hao," which means, "Hello, teacher" in Mandarin Chinese, was repeated many times last week in first-grade classes at the New Albany K-1 elementary building.

Yan Yang, the New Albany-Plain Local School District's first full-time Chinese teacher, said she hopes by the end of the year all the first-graders will be able to introduce themselves, say their names and ages and talk about their families in Chinese.

"They will learn basic things in Chinese: numbers, the names of family members, animals, colors, school activities, school supplies, maybe even sports," she said.

She said the Chinese classes also will have a cultural element.

K-1 Principal Susann Wittig said the first-graders will meet with Yang for 40 minutes once a week. The classes will be taught in first grade as a "special" course, similar to art and music.

After the third day of school, Wittig said, she already was being greeted in Chinese by children practicing what they learned.

Yang is from Dalian, China, and came to the United States in 2001 to attend Ohio State University. She studied Chinese linguistics and earned her master's and doctorate degrees at the university before heading west to teach at the University of Indiana.

She said she was recruited to teach Chinese at an elementary school in Indiana.

At New Albany, Yang will teach the "special" class for first-graders and an introduction to Mandarin Chinese course for seventh- and eighth-graders.

"At the end of their first year, the seventh- and eighth-graders will be able to perform a conversation with a native speaker in a comfortable manner," Yang said. "I want to make them comfortable when introducing themselves and talking about their family."

Involving students in international studies is one of the district's goals for this year, said Superintendent April Domine.

"This is a critical part of our vision and mission statement, broadening our international studies," she said.

Domine said the district hired Yang and a part-time teacher, Ning Deng, to oversee the classes. Yang will earn $61,196 in salary, not including benefits. Deng will earn $13,534 and is not eligible for benefits.

Yang tailors her teaching to be age-appropriate; she uses a puppet in the first-grade classes, for example.

Yang said each week she will send home information on lessons. She said the district is designing a way for parents to view the students' work on the district website so they can learn the correct pronunciation of Chinese words and work with their children at home.

Domine said the district had not anticipated adding Mandarin Chinese in the K-1 building this school year.

"It was something that we hoped to be able to achieve for grades 7-12 but we were unsure of the level of student participation and how much time would be focused on scheduling the upper grades," she said. "But we found room on the schedule."

She said the district hopes to include more opportunities for students to learn Chinese as it studies its scheduling and use of buildings. A Chinese class was offered to students last summer and the district is planning more summer and after-school opportunities.

The district also plans to partner with a school in the Harbin province of China to foster student communication with peers in another country, with the possibility of student and teacher exchanges