Beginning a new Project: Zeyue Elementary School

I’ve recently returned from the Cool Mountains, and I want to talk about our two new projects. First, Zeyue Elementary School in Xide County.

Xide County is in the heartland of Old Liangshan, and its local pronunciation was chosen in the 1970s as the standard for the Nuosu Yi Language.  The county seat is in a lowland valley, and downriver from the city are mostly Han Chinese Farmers.  But around the city and farther into the mountains, everyone is Nuosu–Nuosu account for about 85% of the population of Xide.

Cool Mountain Education Fund board member Professor Aga Rehamo has started an exciting project in Zeyue (Jjixyuo in Nuosu) Township Elementary School, a half-hour drive narrow roads from the Xide county seat. The school is well-appointed, much more “modern” than Yangjuan Primary School where CMEF focused our previous efforts. Aga’s project is about preserving and developing students’ abilities in the written form of their native Nuosu language, while opening them up at an early age to the English language that will be an important key to future careers.

Principal Ashuo introduces Janine and Adriene to Nuosu Lacquer while Aga translates
Principal Ashuo introduces Janine and Adriene to Nuosu Lacquer while Aga translates

With support from the Chinese Ministry of Education and from Sichuan Normal University where she teaches, Aga has begun a trilingual education project with 5th- and 6th- graders at Zeyue.  Using teaching materials she wrote with the help of CMEF board member Kaitlin Banfill, Aga has assigned two graduate students to work together with Nuosu Yi language teachers to teach Yi literacy and basic English at the same time in the same class, thereby allowing Nuosu students to learn English directly from their own language, rather than through the intermediary of Chinese.

When Aga was a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Washington, she had the opportunity, with the help of the Makah Cultural and Research Center at Neah Bay on the Makah Reservation in Northwest Washington, to study the way the Makah are reviving their formerly almost-lost native language through research, work with elders who speak the language well, and teaching the language in their own public elementary school. So it seemed opportune to continue the exchange by inviting Janine Ledford, director of the Makah Center, and native-language teacher Adriene Bowechop to visit the trilingual project in Xide.  We all went together in mid-November. Adriene and Janine introduced their language programs to academic audiences in Chengdu and Xichang, and spent a day at Zeyue, where they not only taught an English class and observed the trilingual class, but also had a chance to discuss the issues and solutions of mother-tongue education with Zeyue Principal Ashuo and the teachers directly involved in the trilingual program and other Yi-language education.

Discussing multilingual education at Zeyue Elementary School.
Discussing multilingual education at Zeyue Elementary School.

Aga’s grants and her Institute for Multicultural Education funded all this, but CMEF is getting involved at Zeyue. Through President Tami Blumenfield’s tireless efforts, we have obtained our fourth grant for girls’ education from the Journey Charitable Foundation of Houston, and in addition to the scholarships that I will detail in my next post, we are going to fund a three-part girls’ education program at Zeyue.  This will consist of basic sex education, a lute band, and a girls’ basketball team. Eclectic? Read further…

Sex education is something that Nuosu children rarely get, but which is really necessary in today’s Cool Mountains, where AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases are way too prevalent. We will be using materials derived from China’s best sex education curricula, and graduate students from Sichuan Normal University will teach the classes to upper-grade girls. Our funds will go for teaching materials for this important program.

A girl band?  Of course!  We also visited Heboluo Elementary School, a half-hour in another direction from Xide county seat, where all classes are taught in Nuosu and Principal Ashuo served for several  years before his transfer to Zeyue this fall. There there is already a girls’ band that plays the panbie, or lute, as you can see and hear if you click on this video link IMG_0282. We’re going to help duplicate this at Zeyue, and purchase the instruments for the band.

And Principal Ashuo is a former basketball star (on the local level, to be sure) who has successfully coached boys’ teams and wants to try his skills at a girls’ team. This is unusual in the Cool Mountains, but he thinks it will be popular and will work, and we are willing to spring for some equipment and uniforms.

We’re very excited about this new direction for CMEF, and we hope you are, too!








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