Mina Leung was one of several proud parents snapping pictures of their children at Forest Grove Elementary's special Chinese New Year celebration on Feb. 13.
Students packed the gym for special performances to mark the lunar new year at Forest Grove, which is the only elementary school in Burnaby with a Mandarin language arts program.
Leung's seven-year-old daughter, Jenny, is enrolled in the program, which started with a group of kindergarten students in 2010.
Leung sees the program as an opportunity to give her daughter's education an edge.
"Burnaby is giving us a choice to prepare our kids for success, especially because Mandarin is the largest language in the world," she says.
Leung grew up with Cantonese-speaking parents, but she replied mostly in English. She's happy her daughter has the chance to learn Mandarin, which she says is more widely used in business circles. She chose to enroll her daughter in Mandarin instead of French.
"I wanted more value to her education, and of course, language is a way forward," she said. "She has a competitive edge having learned the language, especially at this early age when her brain is like a sponge."
Jenny, who is now in Grade 1, can count from one to 100 in Mandarin. She knows the days of the week, greetings, months and various body parts. But, as Leung says, it's not just about the language; the program, as reflected by the Chinese New Year celebrations, is a way to promote appreciation of Chinese culture.
"Burnaby is a more multicultural city," she says. "Everybody's a different culture, and this program promotes them to appreciate other cultures."
Michele Britton, another mom with a five-year-old in the program, also attended the special Forest Grove celebration. Her son, Lucas, is learning Mandarin in kindergarten.
"He's just loving it," she says. "He's super proud he can do this."
Britton speaks German to her two children at home, but now Lucas can teach his older brother to count in Mandarin.
Britton also said her family is connecting more with their Chinese neighbours.
"It's just opened up this whole new conversation we just didn't have before. It's exciting," she says.
Burnaby high school students can study Mandarin as a second language, but the elementary language arts program was the first of its kind in Burnaby when it started in 2010.
Kindergarten students spend about 30 minutes a day learning the language. As the students grow older and move to higher grades, so does the Mandarin program, which is now offered up to Grade 2. It's a district-wide program, so parents who live across Burnaby can apply to enroll their children.
Most of the children currently enrolled started at the kindergarten level, but students can join at grades 1 or 2, depending on their level of Mandarin. For the 2013/14 school year, the program will also be offered at the Grade 3 level.
Currently, there are 18 students enrolled in the Mandarin language arts kindergarten level, 21 in Grade 1, and 20 in grade 2.
The school district plans on offering the program all the way up to the Grade 7 level, as the kids gets older.
Leung plans to keep her daughter enrolled in the course, all the way through Grade 7.
"I'm really, really happy with how she's doing right now with the class - the teachers, the curriculum, I wouldn't want to change it," she says.