Hotel operators want to establish Mandarin school

Updated: 2015-04-01 06:17

By PAUL WELITZKINin New York(China Daily USA)

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Hotel operators want to establish Mandarin school

Charlie Morden and Ruth Rush, operators of the Union Hotel (above) in Union, Oregon, want to open a Mandarin bilingual elementary school in the rural eastern part of the state. [PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY]

A 94-year-old restored hotel in rural Oregon could be the home of a charter or private school with bilingual instruction in English and Mandarin if Charlie Morden and Ruth Rush are successful.

The couple operates the Union Hotel in Union, Oregon, and hope to utilize an empty floor in the building for the school that will focus on instruction for kindergarten though the fourth grade initially.

"Our greatest opportunities and challenges will be with China," Morden told China Daily in an interview Tuesday. "Why not teach our children the language so they can communicate better."

Morden believes the school can help to fill an important void and also spur economic development in the sparsely populated eastern part of Oregon. Census bureau estimates put Union's population at a little over 2,000 and around 25,000 for the county.

"Our two top industries are agriculture and tourism and a market with an enormous potential for those industries is Asia and China. Wouldn't it be wonderful if folks in a rural part of Oregon could speak the language of a potential customer?" he said.

Morden believes that economic development will help to sell Mandarin instruction to the rural residents: "I think they will be very receptive to this when I explain it can mean jobs and opportunity."

Morden said he had 12 years of French instruction and Rush is former German instructor at a school near Eugene, Oregon. Neither speaks Mandarin.

Morden was first exposed to Mandarin in 2001. "I was the principal of a bilingual Mandarin public charter school in Washington, DC, and I saw how quickly the students of an inner city school could learn the language," he said.

Union's isolated location – Morden said it is a closer drive to Boise, Idaho, than it is to Portland, the state's largest city – poses another challenge for Morden and Rush.

"We will have to work with the Chinese communities in Portland and the rest of Oregon to find Mandarin instructors," said Morden. Filling out the rest of the teaching staff won't be as difficult since many public-school teachers are able to retire in their 50s and early 60s, he added.

Kevin Kinser, associate professor of education at the State University of New York Albany notes that a rural audience can perhaps be even more attracted to the employment possibilities offered by knowing a second language. "But the challenge is more whether a sufficient number of elementary students in a small community can be found to enroll in this alternative experience. I don't know the demographics of the town, but often small communities are faced with aging populations with declining school-age populations. Even if the interest from the community is there, are there enough families in the community to make it viable," he wrote in an e-mail.

The hotel was opened in 1921 and according to Morden "…has been loving restored over the years mostly by individuals other than us." Rush and Morden purchased the hotel in 2012.

"Our business is very seasonal with 65 to 70 percent coming in the summer," he said. The school will be either a charter or private school. He is looking for either corporate or governmental support or both to provide funding for the school which he hopes to open in 2016.