Graduate Student Leads State’s Largest High School Chinese Program

Linfei Yi teaches two classes at Holly Springs High School

Victoria Nabors (left), T’khya Williams, Kelvisha Conner, Fredrekia Campbell and Kennytra Martin, all Chinese 1 students at Holly Spring High School, show off their Asian-themed paper cuttings at the school. UM photo by Linfei Yi

OXFORD, Miss. – When Linfei Yi began teaching Chinese at Holly Springs High School two years ago, the University of Mississippi graduate student had no idea it would quickly become the largest such program in Mississippi.

Besides Holly Springs, three Mississippi schools – Oxford High School and Lafayette High School in Oxford and St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Ridgeland – have Chinese language programs. The UM Department of Modern Languages is involved with the Lafayette and Holly Springs programs through its partnership with Alliance for Language Learning and Educational Exchange Foundation.

The alliance works mostly to set up Chinese and Japanese programs within universities, but it also helps recruit graduate students into the university’s Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages programs. Native Chinese speakers are required to teach in one of the high schools while they pursue their degrees.

“It’s a wonderfully innovative way for the university to bring new academic programs to area high schools,” said Daniel O’Sullivan, UM chair and professor of modern languages. “Yi has been a model graduate student in our program and has made a positive impact at Holly Springs.

“She was a finalist last year in the graduate school’s 3MT (Three-Minute Thesis) Competition, and everyone in the department was very proud of her.”

Yi’s students also have traveled to Oxford to participate in the Moon Festival and to watch the Chinese Speech Contest, which was held on Chinese New Year. These events and others are observed through the university’s Chinese Language Flagship Program.

“I have seen just how big of an impact Yi has had on her students,” O’Sullivan said. “It’s really inspiring.”

Yi has taught 62 students in two classes at the north Mississippi high school. Since its inception, two graduates have continued their Chinese studies.

Tiffany Nichols, a student in the Chinese language program at Holly Springs High School, writes her first ‘good luck’ poster with the Chinese brush. UM photo by Linfei Yi

“The most rewarding aspect of my teaching experience is always to see my students can speak more and more in Chinese and become more and more interested and curious about the language and the culture,” said Yi, a native of Guilin, China, who earned her bachelor’s degree from Guilin University of Technology and her master’s degree from Guangxi Normal University.

Yi said students in her Chinese Level 2 class are the best example of this progress. She recalled how some of them initially wanted to take Spanish rather than Chinese, but couldn’t transfer out of the class.

“The first day of my Chinese 1 class, they were not happy at all,” she said. “But through the first year of learning the language, doing group projects and presentations on Chinese culture and attending events held by the Ole Miss Flagship Chinese program, the students took the initiatives to learn more.

“Now, I don’t have to worry about if they (as Chinese 2 students) will misbehave in the classroom, if they will delay their assignments or if some of them will fail a test because their performance in the class has shown their achievements day by day.”

Yi said she entered the modern languages and liguistics program because she wanted to continue to teach Chinese as a second language to English speakers.

“I wish to continue to work either as a language teacher or to promote cultural exchange between China and the U.S.,” she said.

Several of Yi’s Holly Springs students praised her efforts on their behalf.

“Ms. Yi is a very inspirational person,” said Kuelteria Crane, a senior. “She never gives up on teaching new things and opening our minds to new ideas. She is the greatest teacher and deserves to be recognized greatly.”