Chinese teacher Lei Liang held up a banana and a Coke before a group of students at A.R. Johnson Health Science and Engineering Magnet School on Tuesday.
"How do you say banana?" asked Liang, who is from Xuchang, China.
"Xiang jiao," the class said in unison.
And a Coke? "Ke kou ke le," they responded, later role playing as workers and customers speaking Chinese.
The class, offered at A.R. Johnson and the Academy of Richmond County, is part of a Chinese Guest Teacher Program that the Richmond County school board reluctantly approved for another year's funding at its most recent meeting.
The program is in its second year and has taught about 100 students. Although the school board approved the program for the 2010-11 school year, several board members asked if the cost -- about $60,000 -- should be spent differently in light of the school system's anticipated budget cuts. The $60,000 includes benefits, and the school system receives a $13,000 subsidy from the Chinese government.
"When you have a tight budget, one of the things you put out is luxuries and deal with needs," board member Barbara Pulliam said at the meeting.
A couple of board members said two or three parapros could be hired with the money, but they were told that high school students need two years of a foreign language and that those who had already taken a year of Chinese through the program would have to start over with another language if the program was canceled.
After the board voted to keep the program for next school year, board member Helen Minchew said, "We can look at this as more of an advance for the next time this comes around."
Superintendent Dana Bedden told the board the program is invaluable because it provides a teacher who is from China.
"They tell me that even if we hired a teacher who knew how to speak Chinese, what they (students) are learning from a person from China is much more realistic," he said.
Board member Alex Howard agreed, saying that for high-achieving students the program "is not a luxury. ... This is something we need to provide to the students."
Liang -- who goes back to China during the summer and teaches Chinese grammar there -- said she's able to give students a unique take on her language, teaching them the official Chinese spoken language of Mandarin.
"I enjoy teaching here, and I'm so lucky I'm here," she said, but added that a different teacher from China would come to Richmond County next year.
A.R. Johnson ninth-grader Julius Cherry said he's just glad the program will continue for at least one more year.
"Chinese looked like it would be the best experience for me," he said. "It gives you a taste of another culture."
Reach Preston Sparks at (706) 828-3851 or firstname.lastname@example.org.