Four dozen students at a new magnet school in Newark are the first high-schoolers in the city's public schools to be offered Chinese in the classroom.
Started last fall at Bard High School Early College, teacher John Weinstein says it is more popular than Spanish, a language generally considered easier for American students to learn.
"It's difficult but I got the hang of it, so it's kind of fun," said freshman N'Ja Berry, 14, of her first year of study.
Bard, a new magnet high school placed in an old middle school, is in its first year and has 123 students so far. It is on its way to an expected enrollment of 400 within the next few years.
But all of its students are expected to go on to college after graduation, so the offering of Chinese -- students must sign up for a minimum of three years in the course -- seemed natural.
The students are taking pride in tackling the challenge of, and succeeding in, Chinese.
"I think that self-esteem is going to carry over into other things they do," Weinstein said.
A decade ago, Weinstein, a Harvard graduate who has an MBA and Ph.D. in Chinese literature from Columbia, helped start a similar program in the New York City school system.
Now it's Newark's turn.
Many of the four dozen students spread over three classes who are studying this language seem to recognize its growing importance in the international business world.
But for Abdullah Adejoh, 14, there is a more immediate purpose.
"Maybe to meet a Chinese friend or go to China to speak it fluently," Adejoh said.
Weinstein said one of his students found a more practical use.
He said she went to a local nail salon where the help spoke Mandarin Chinese. When she started talking their language she was offered a discount.
Follow Brian Thompson on Twitter @brian4NY
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