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Cardozo principal pledges to improve Chinese program

Photo courtesy Gerald Martori
By Phil Corso

A northeast Queens educator has taken his own learning experience abroad to expand his teaching opportunities at home.

After returning to the United States from a mid-November trip to China, Bayside’s Cardozo High School Principal Gerald Martori has begun expanding the school’s Chinese program to better suit its demographics.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of trip that I really enjoyed,” Martori said. “I learned a lot and look forward to taking that back to this school.”

The principal trekked to areas including Beijing, the capital of China, alongside several other American educators as part of a partnership program organized by Hanban, a public institution affiliated with the Chinese Ministry of Education. Each year, the program engages 420 American teachers split into geographical groups to establish Chinese language and cultural teaching partnerships on a global scale.

“The goal here is to give the kids an opportunity to learn Chinese in a dynamic sort of way,” Martori said. “It can only help — certainly in this area.”

That area is in Bayside, where nearly 7 percent of the population is Chinese, according to the U.S. census. Nearly 200,000 Chinese residents make up just under 10 percent of the entire Queens population.

At Cardozo alone, Martori said Chinese students comprise more than one-third of the entire student population.

“It is important for us to give the students this kind of opportunity,” Martori said. “If we can get some exchange programs going, it would be invaluable to their education.”

While in China, Martori said he visited a primary school, two high schools and one college to meet with both students and teachers to learn area customs and find opportunities to enhance his own teaching experiences back in the States. The principal said he teamed up with two high school principals in China who vowed to work together from their ends of the world.

During his visit, Martori said he sat in on two 11th-grade English classrooms and spoke with high school students. The principal said he was astounded at the sophistication of the students’ dialect.

“Visiting China and seeing how they teach and learn firsthand kills all stereotypes and preconceived ideas,” Martori said. “When you see their culture and experience it, you see things very differently.”

For starters, Martori said students at Cardozo will have pen pals to correspond with from China, thanks to the partnerships he set up from his trip. And looking ahead, the educator said the goal was to expand Cardozo’s Chinese program, which currently caters mostly to native speakers only.

By continuing to work with his newfound teammates on the other side of the world, Martori said he hoped to organize teacher-trading stints, where educators would switch schools, and countries, for two weeks at a time to learn through teaching.

So far, he said, demand as been booming.

“I think students in the area realize something like this could be essential,” Martori said. “My hope is we can begin drafting more classes for this school, including a new Mandarin class for September.”

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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