Beattie Career Center celebrates spring with Mandarin Festival
May 8, 2014 7:24 AM
Lindsay Brooks, center, and Victoria Priola, right, both 18 and seniors of Moon Area High School and their classmates perform Chinese folk dance Friday in the Mandarin spring festival at A.W. Beattie Technical School in McCandless.
Claire Gonabe, 16, a sophomore of North Hills High School, recites a Chinese poem in the Mandarin spring festival at A.W. Beattie Technical School in McCandless Township on Friday.
By Jill Cueni-Cohen
A.W. Beattie Career Center in McCandless celebrated its annual Mandarin Spring Festival with a performance by Meiying Wang, a Kung Fu movie star and professional Wushu athlete from Beijing.
Her appearance Friday was emblematic of the way the Chinese culture has been infused into the school since it began offering Mandarin Chinese in 2007. The class is a yearlong, full-credit course via distance learning over the Live Video Network.
The annual festival, which honors the Chinese women who spend the school year as intern teachers at Beattie, typically features student and teacher presentations from the schools participating in the Mandarin classes. This year's program was different because of North Hills High School senior Will Murray, 18.
For four years, Will has been a Kung Fu student at Win-Win Kung Fu Cultural Center in Squirrel Hill, and for the past two years he’s been learning Chinese.
“I wanted to take Chinese so that I could better understand my instructors,” he said. He’s been learning Chinese from teachers sent here from China through the University of Pittsburgh Confucius Institute, which sponsors the teachers through a partnership with Han Ban and Wuhan University.
Will plans to go to North Carolina State University for nuclear engineering, and his goal is to get a job that will take him to China.
Will’s Kung Fu director, Master Hesheng Bao, sponsored the movie star’s visit.
This year’s festival attracted nearly 200 people, including students and staff from 12 school districts from three counties, according to Sandy Niggel, assistant director for curriculum and instruction.
Beattie serves students from Avonworth, Deer Lakes, Fox Chapel Area, Hampton, North Allegheny, North Hills, Northgate, Pine-Richland and Shaler Area, but the Mandarin Chinese program is open to any student from any district. Beattie became the first Pennsylvania career center to achieve Designated Confucius Classroom status in 2011.
Junior Ray Watters, 17, of Avonworth began learning Chinese four years ago by default. “We could choose a language to learn in middle school, and I chose French; but I got put into Chinese instead,” he recalled, adding that it was a life-changing move. “A career in China would be cool,” he said, adding that he’s now taking Chinese 4.
His teacher, Juan He "Jenny," 24, of Hubei Province, said Ray is her most accomplished student. “I really like teaching these kids,” she said, noting that because Avonworth has the most students of Chinese, she works exclusively with that district.
Avonworth’s Chinese program teacher Kathy Lenski said hers was one of two pioneer schools to offer the course. “Now our whole seventh grade takes Chinese,” she said.
Paige Lin, who owns Oriental Express Chinese restaurant in Franklin Park with her husband, Andy, has been catering the event since its inception. Mrs. Lin, 37, of Pine, is not Chinese, and the class provides a personal benefit now that her daughter Emily, 15, is learning Chinese and can say a few phrases to her father in his native language.
Emily, who attends Pine-Richland, used to help her mom with the catering each year, but this was her first time attending the festival as a participant. “This is great because it lets us get to know the teachers better,” she said, noting that she met her teacher in person for the first time.
In addition to the students and teachers, Beattie’s staff has become enamored of everything Chinese.
“I have come to love and appreciate the Chinese culture,” said school secretary Pauline Jencik. Over the years, Mrs. Jencik has served as a sort of den mother for the annual groups of Chinese teachers who live and work in completely unfamiliar surroundings.
“Getting to know these young women up close and personal has been the greatest reward,” she said. “They’re precious and lovable, and their culture is very interesting.”
To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to
firstname.lastname@example.org and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner.