Students sat in rows of desks, books stacked around the room and a homework assignment was on the board. The students learning Chinese could have been in any classroom.
But this classroom is located inside a juvenile detention center.
The students at the Warren Regional Juvenile Detention Center are learning the language thanks to the Confucius Institute of WKU.
The institute has been sending two teachers to teach Chinese classes every other Monday for five sessions.
Becky Painter, a science teacher at the detention center, said this is an effort for cultural diversity.
“I try to bring in outside programming to enrich the lives of the kids here,” Painter said.
Painter said she contacted the institute because they came to the detention center twice last year to teach and she wanted them back.
She said the Chinese teachers from the institute, Xiaoye Yang and Chunliu Wang, are focusing on teaching the students about Chinese culture, such as calligraphy and Chinese holidays.
During Monday’s session, Yang and Wang taught the students about festivals in China and taught them how to write phrases in Chinese characters.
They spent the majority of the time telling the students about Mid-Autumn Day, an important Chinese festival that is coming up soon — this Sunday on the American calendar.
During this lunar festival, families eat mooncake — the holiday’s traditional food, which can contain red bean paste — and watch the full moon.“It’s a kind of custom on Mid-Autumn Day,” Wang said.
The teachers brought in samples of mooncake to taste. They played a song that is popular to listen to on Mid-Autumn Day as well.
Even though she’s teaching at the detention center, Yang said she doesn’t treat the students any differently.
“We just treat them as common students,” Yang said.
Wang said the first time they came to teach at the detention center, they were worried about what it would be like.
“We haven’t been to a place like here before,” Wang said.
But she said the students are smart and kind, and she and Yang enjoy teaching at the detention center.
“It’s quite different from what we imagined before,” Wang said.
Painter said it’s important for her students to have their eyes opened to diversity and understand different cultures.
“They need to know how to interact with those different cultures and to understand that different’s okay,” Painter said. “They have a tendency to see everything in black and white, and this gives them shades of gray, to understand that because something’s different, doesn’t make it bad."
Painter said learning to accept different cultures would help the students be more accepting of their time at the detention center.
“If they judge themselves automatically, they’re going to assume that society will think that they are bad because they’ve been here,” Painter said.
Painter said the detention center will continue this program for as long as the institute will work with them.
“Western has been very supportive of our programming,” Painter said.
Betty Yu, assistant director for educational outreach at the institute, said she wants her teachers out servicing the community rather than waiting to give tours at the museum.
Yu said she hopes this will spark the students’ interest in Chinese and she thinks it is a worthwhile program.
“I think we’re reaching out to a group of the population that is usually overlooked,” Yu said.