Mandarin Chinese has been offered to high school students in Whitehall through distance learning for the past three years, but students will be able to take the class locally in 2013-14.

Mandarin Chinese has been offered to high school students in Whitehall through distance learning for the past three years, but students will be able to take the class locally in 2013-14.

School board members unanimously agreed to try the class out -- in house -- for the 2013-14 school year. If all goes well, the district will continue to offer the course, again with board approval.

Chinese also will be offered to fourth- and fifth-grade gifted classes at Etna Road Elementary School.

According to Susie Carr, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, high school students welcomed the language class with open arms for the past three years when it was offered through distance learning.

"But we've had a lot more interest lately," she said.

To satisfy that interest, the district will offer the language in house for five periods a day rather than three -- and at a reduced cost.

School board members approved the $33,470 contract earlier this month with the East Central Ohio Educational Service Center, which will provide the instructor, who is from China. According to Carr, the instructor already has been in the United States for a year, teaching the language. He will be available for instruction in Whitehall for another two years before his visa expires, although a new instructor would be provided by the ESC should Whitehall decide to continue with the program.

"Many more American companies are conducting business in China and are hiring employees that speak and write Chinese," Carr said. "China's economy with the world has seen rapid growth, and therefore China established nonprofit institutions to promote Chinese language and culture in foreign countries in 2004. China created the Confucius Institutes so that students can learn the language and culture. The Hanban/Confucius Institute has a partnership with the Ohio Department of Education to provide guest teachers for districts in Ohio."

According to Bloomberg.com, Mandarin Chinese is the top language worldwide for business, second only to English. Mandarin is spoken by 845 million people throughout the world and is scored highest in a ranking of languages, excluding English, based on business usefulness.

Carr said she hopes that by offering Chinese at both the elementary and high school levels, students will have several opportunities to try a new language.

"Research indicates that the earlier learners are exposed to language, their ability to learn the language, retain the language and immerse themselves in that culture has great educational benefits," she said. "This gives the students an opportunity to participate in multiple language instruction while enrolled in Whitehall City Schools."

Foreign-language requirements vary from school to school and even major to major. However, the vast majority of colleges have at least a minimal foreign-language requirement that is usually at least two years in high school.

The state does not require any foreign language to graduate from high school, but it does fall under the five units of "elective" requirements needed to graduate. One unit is equal to a 120-hour class.

Graduation requirements for Whitehall include six elective units "of at least one unit or two-and-a-half units from the areas of business/technology, fine arts and/or foreign language."