BANGOR, Maine — Matthew Pecoraro has studied German and Spanish as a student at Mount Ararat High School in Topsham.
But two languages weren’t enough for the 16-year-old.
This summer, Pecoraro and around 40 youths in grades four-12 from around Maine and beyond had a chance to learn about the language and culture of China, thanks to the Bangor Chinese School and a federal grant the school received in May.
Pecoraro, who lives in Topsham, and his fellow students in the Student Summer Camp in Chinese Language and Culture gathered for a graduation and closing ceremony Friday afternoon in Husson University’s Libra Lecture Hall.
“This is really the first chance I’ve had to [learn Chinese],” Pecoraro, who has been living in the area while at the camp. “It was a lot of fun.”
The group showed a room full of family members and guests what they had learned this summer, taking part in 14 performances in Mandarin Chinese. The students started with youth gymnastics, a series of stretching and movement exercises traditionally done in the morning.
They moved on to songs, dances, poems, a tai chi demonstration, a performance on the koto, a stringed instrument, a performance of Chinese sign language, and more songs and dances.
The program, and another for teachers held earlier this summer, was funded by a $110,000 grant from the U.S. National Language Program Initiative’s Startalk program.
The federally funded initiative is designed to expand and improve upon teaching and learning of languages considered strategically important, such as Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Persian, Turkish, Swahili and Urdu.
Pecoraro was eager to expand his language horizons.
“China is really big and upcoming in the world,” said Pecoraro, who would like to return to the camp next summer. “Economically it’s booming, so I think it’s important to learn languages and be able to survive in the world.”
The Startalk languages selected are based on several criteria, including the number of people speaking the language, the official status and political importance of the language, and the historic and academic interest in the language.
The grant helped subsidize camp costs, and also allowed for some scholarships.
“This [is] my dream. I want children to come learn Chinese for free,” said Jing Zhang, the Bangor Chinese School president. “Maybe next year, [the camp will] be totally free.”
The Bangor program is the only one in Maine this year, according to Startalk’s Web site.