The Jefferson School District Chinese Immersion Program has received a $65,000 federal grant from the National Security Administration to host a Chinese summer camp at Rigby Middle School for rising sixth and seventh graders this year.

“They (the NSA) fund language learning programs all over the country for summer programs, and the programs focus on helping students develop learning second languages that the U.S. government feel are critical to their organization,” said Kevin Cowley, the district’s language immersion coordinator.

Cowley said the grant money will go toward supplies for the camp, including a laptop cart and 20 laptops, lunch and transportation for the students during the three weeks of in-person classes and pay for teachers and administrators. He said the program received an additional grant from the Jefferson Education Foundation to purchase 16 more laptops, for a total of 36. The entire summer camp is free, and a total of 48 students are registered, Cowley said.

“Our focus is always to help these students develop,” Cowley said.

He said during the six-week camp, students will learn about healthy habits and activities in both U.S. and Chinese culture, and participate in some of those activities.

“The whole idea is to put them in a lot of different contexts, and to give them the language to use in those contexts, so they can practice using it,” Cowley said

Students will have the opportunity to learn Tai Chi, take Chinese cooking classes and dissect an animal to learn about body systems, among other things.

Cowley said this will be the first time the district’s World Language Immersion Program will have summer activities. Lingpei Zou, the camp’s instructional lead, said she is looking forward to the camp. Zou said she has worked with STARTALK, the NSA program, as a teacher before, and said she was happy when the school received the grant.

“They said they don’t believe in perfection, they believe in progression,” Zou said of STARTALK’s outlook. “They want us to make progress and help us — the program — get stronger.”

Three weeks of the camp will be face-to-face at the Rigby Middle School, and the other three weeks, both before and after the in-person sessions, will be taught online, Zou said. The first day of the camp is June 24, and the in-person portion will take place in July.

Zou teaches sixth grade at Rigby Middle School during the year, as part of the World Language Immersion Program at the school. The immersion program began in 2013, and includes Chinese as well as Spanish immersion programs. Initially, Jefferson Elementary was the only school in the district with Spanish immersion, and South Fork Elementary the only one with Chinese immersion. However, the program has since grown, with additional elementary schools added, as well as Rigby Middle School, which has both Spanish and Chinese immersion.

Cowley said the next step is to make the immersion program K-12. Eventually, he said the hope is to make it K-16 through a partnership with Idaho State University, though he said that is “still in the development stages.” Cowley said the summer camp will continue as well, if the district continues to receive grant money.

“The plan is to apply for the grant each year,” he said. “But we have to apply and be selected each year.”

Zou said she feels that being awarded the grant has already helped her and other teachers learn ways of teaching they can use to help their students throughout the year, because STARTALK provides resources the district otherwise would not have had. She said the camp will also be somewhat different than the regular school year.

“We know our students, so I feel like us working with them this summer will help us to know them better,” she said.

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