My Grayson

By encouraging students to explore global perspectives, they foster an understanding of the interconnectedness of our world. This awareness is crucial in today’s globalized society, where cross-cultural competence and empathy are vital to navigating and succeeding in diverse environments and engaging in civic discourse in everyday life.

A research-based approach to language learning

The Mandarin Language Program at our school, beginning as early as PreK, is intentionally designed to cultivate global competence through language learning. Our approach to teaching Mandarin earned The Grayson School the designation of a Distinguished Chinese Language Program in the U.S. for 2024—one of only sixteen schools from twenty-seven states to receive this award from the Chinese Language Teachers Association (CLTA). We are honored by this recognition, and proud to have our program featured in the Fall 2024 CLTA Journal. By integrating traditional and contemporary Chinese culture into our curriculum, we enable students to gain a well-rounded understanding of China’s cultural nuances and modern realities.

The Grayson School accepts the award of a Distinguished Chinese Language Program.

Teaching languages: More than words

The Mandarin Program at Grayson focuses on fostering cultural curiosity and teaching our students much more than reading, writing, and speaking. Across all World Language Programs, our curriculum for learning a language is more than just mastering vocabulary and grammar. Instead, it’s an invitation to develop a deeper appreciation for the perspectives and ways of life that differ from our own. In classrooms, linguistic exercises are balanced with lessons on traditional and contemporary cultural touchpoints and vice versa, allowing students to see the connection between language and culture and place this complementarity in conversation with what they know of the U.S. 

Students use their language, active listening, and observational skills to understand social norms and customs in World Languages classrooms and beyond. In Spanish, for instance, you may hear weather reports from Spanish-speaking cities and regions of the world, delivered in the target language (and often, by someone dressed for the target weather). In German, rousing games of Monopoly and Scrabble provide ample opportunities to practice idioms and casual language use. And in Latin, students translate texts and use Ancient Roman units of measurement to craft handmade, historically accurate footwear so they can literally walk in the Ancient Romans’ shoes!


Four Grayson students received awards in the CLASS 2024 National Chinese Essay Contest, the largest of its kind in the U.S. This year’s theme, “Understanding and Caring for One Another,” inspired four exceptional winning essays. Anna (’32) and Candice (’34) each earned a Silver Award by sharing stories of small acts of kindness that made a significant impact on their lives. Beesan (’26) and Julia (’26) took on more challenging topics of cultural and racial differences, sexism, and injustice. Both received Gold Awards for their work. Their winning essays were handwritten with passion and purpose, and we are very proud of their work. In addition, four of Ms. Xu’s students were semi-finalists in the very selective National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) Scholarship.

Experiential learning in Mandarin is very rich with  seminars dedicated to making gyoza or tofu, workshops in calligraphy and cultural heritage arts, and virtual museum tours taking place throughout the year. Field trips to Chinatown and area Chinese grocery stores and restaurants, Q&A video exchanges with Chinese experts, and volunteering with organizations that support and celebrate Asian communities provide additional opportunities for authentic practice, especially in the Upper School.

Grayson’s observation of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month in May further emphasizes the importance of conversation, both across cultures and grade cohorts. This year, Robert Buscher, a lecturer in Asian American studies at the University of Pennsylvania and a key figure in the Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival, led a lively discussion about the portrayal of Asian Americans in mass media. Students develop cultural empathy through opportunities to listen, discuss, and actively understand the experiences of Asian American communities.

Advocacy and Awareness

Educators and parents play a pivotal role in helping to direct the conversation of future generations, and comprehensive, cross-curricular cultural education is one way to equip students with a global perspective, intellectual curiosity, empathy, and deep respect. The more people discover, experience, and learn more about cultures other than their own; the more they work to understand, appreciate, and respect each other and our differences; the more easily we can create an inclusive, equitable society.

Other Resources

Make Us Visible PA is our state chapter of Make Us Visible, a nationwide initiative to update school curricula with accurate information about Asian American & Pacific Islander history and culture. We’re incredibly proud of Miles (’25) and grateful to his family for their active involvement in this important cause. Recently, Miles spoke at the AAPI History rally at the state capitol in Harrisburg, advocating for HB 779 / SB 839. This legislation aims to incorporate AAPI history in all Pennsylvania schools, making a significant step toward educational equity.
Tony DelaRosa, an educator and advocate for greater inclusion of AAPI history and awareness in curriculum is the author of Teaching the Invisble Race. You can learn more about his work in this interview from the Harvard EdCast.

About the Author

Davynn Xu is a Mandarin Teacher at The Grayson School. She also serves as Academic Coordinator at the Center for International Foreign Language Teacher Education at Teachers College – Columbia University in NYC.

Ms. Xu’s research on the unit design created for Grayson’s Mandarin III class on “Optimizing Task Design in Teaching Chinese: A Comprehensive Analysis on the Giving-Direction Unit in Chinese Foreign Language Context” was presented at the 2024 National Council on Less-Commonly Taught Languages (NCLCTL) Annual Conference in Chicago and to faculty in the Department of World Languages and Cultures at University of Toledo. The unit design of the Giving-Direction and Mooncake-making units are selected for presentation at the Integrating Culture into Language Classroom seminar during International Education Week at Teachers College – Columbia University in the fall.


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