downtownexpress.com
Volume 20 Issue 16 | Aug. 31 - Sept. 6, 2007

Back To School

High school’s plans include language of the century

By Anindita Dasgupta

Millennium High School is adding Mandarin to its curriculum this year and hopes students will have a place to play team sports, practice their music and speak Mandarin.

Millennium, the only Downtown high school targeted for Lower Manhattan residents, is now about to begin its sixth year and is looking to the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation to fund construction on two projects. Millennium hopes to acquire space on the 33rd and 34th floors in their building at 75 Broad St. to build a gymnasium and recording studio for students to use. The school currently occupies the 11th, 12th, and 13th floors of the building. “We are, like everyone else sending proposals to the L.M.D.C., waiting and holding our breath for their decision,” said Robert Rhodes, Millennium High School principal. In terms of immediate projects, they are adding Mandarin as a language option for their students this year.

At it’s July board meeting, L.M.D.C. chairperson Avi Schick said a panel reviewing applications for $45 million in grants is likely to present a list of recommendations to the board Sept. 17.

Rhodes said they have put in a request for $2.2 million to build the gymnasium. Councilmember Alan Gerson remembered the school in this year’s annual budget and awarded them $350,000 for the project. The half court gym will take up 4,000 square feet, with some locker rooms and office space for physical education teachers. “This will complete something that we originally thought of,” said Rhodes. The gymnasium will supplement physical activity in their small fitness center, which students have been using for yoga and dance. Rhodes described that space as more of what one might find in a health club, and while that met the needs of some individual sports he is looking forward to students participating in sports teams to bring balance to their program. “You can’t really bounce things in there,” he said about the fitness center.

Rhodes feels that the gym will allow students to be exposed to sports they otherwise may not be exposed to. “Students aren’t really exposed to them in junior high; they haven’t really been able to develop an interest,” he said.  “They could find a sport they might fall in love with.” He stressed the importance of kids being active in team sports. “It’s healthy,” he said. “That’s what teenagers should be doing — when they’re not reading and writing!”

Just as Rhodes is trying to enhance Millennium’s physical education curriculum with a new gymnasium, he is trying to augment their music program through the addition of a recording studio. In conjunction with the World Foundation for Music and Healing, an organization created after the Sept. 11th attacks to provide music education and support to those dealing with trauma and loss, Millennium has asked the L.M.D.C. for roughly $4,000 to build a recording space and small soundproof practice rooms. The recording space would also serve as a classroom for music education, said Valerie Ghent, W.F.M.H. founder. “It would also be a place for student bands to practice,” she said. Ghent approached Rhodes about creating such a space last year. The foundation ran a song writing class for Millennium students. As she walked through the school, she noticed several student bands practicing in the hallways. The students were part of Millennium’s School of Rock program, in which students create their own bands. With the new recording space, Ghent said, these students will have a place practice and record their music.

Another addition to Millennium’s curriculum this year will be the option for students to learn Mandarin. Until this year, the school only offered Spanish. While many schools offer French as an alternative to Spanish, Millennium opted to go with Mandarin. “In the end, Mandarin made more sense in terms of where the world is heading,” Rhodes said, adding that a lot of schools in New York City are starting Mandarin programs. Students are very excited, said Rhodes. Students from different backgrounds are interested. He said that many non-Asian students have signed up as well as students who speak Cantonese at home.

Millennium has hired Sally Liu as their Mandarin teacher. Majoring in English in Taiwan, Liu came to the U.S. and did her student teaching at Poly Prep Packer College in Brooklyn. She also has a dual masters degree in teaching a foreign language and teaching language to foreign speakers, said Rhodes.

Millennium made it a point to expand their students’ exposure to Spanish further than the classroom, said Rhodes. In the past, students have traveled to Peru, Chile, Ecuador, and Costa Rica. In a few years, he hopes, students will be able to travel to China and apply their Mandarin. In the meantime, he plans for students taking Mandarin to link up with students from other schools by organizing Mandarin lunches for students to mix and speak in Mandarin.

Rhodes thinks it is also a great way to get students thinking about other cultures. “It’s a type of respect when you try to learn other people’s languages,” he said.





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