The melody was familiar – “Frere Jacques,” the nursery rhyme sung by generations of schoolchildren – but the words weren’t.
“Xia zhou jian, Xia zhou jian,” intoned Xu Chen to the final notes of the song. Gathered around her, the children attending the first day of the first Panda Academy at the Racine Montessori School followed along even if they didn’t know what they were saying. Roughly translated it meant “See you next week,” and it was the phrase which students would be expected to repeat as they left the room following their first lesson in the Chinese language.
The academy, which began Sept. 27, grew out of a desire to teach adopted Asian children about their heritage, to offer the language of a nation important to modern commerce, and to eliminate long drives for parents.
“I think every community has a burgeoning Asian population and not necessarily by adoption. The percentage of Asians in the country is very small, but it’s the fastest-growing,” said Kelly Gallaher, one of the people who organized the academy.