A Mandarin Grade School in Minneapolis

In a pioneering Minnesota charter school, you don't have to be Chinese to get a head start in Mandarin. Saying ni hao to language immersion in the heartland

Jeffrey Thompson for Time

Yinghua first-graders line up in class for a midmorning bathroom break.

On the outside, Betsy Lueth's school looks like any other in this arty neighborhood of Minneapolis: a sprawling, boxy red brick building with plain steel doors. Yet inside, the blond, gregarious Minnesotan presides over an institution unique in the heartland: Yinghua Academy, a charter public school where elementary students of every ethnicity study subjects ranging from math to American history in Mandarin.

Yinghua, the first such immersion program in the Midwest, is on the leading edge of a movement that in recent years has seen Chinese-language programs spread rapidly throughout the U.S. In 2000 an estimated 5,000 kids were taking Mandarin...

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