Confucius instructors teach students in Detention Center

Confucius Insitute intern Xinyi Ma helps teach children at the juvenile detention center as they make clay food for their art class on April 8. (Tyler Essary/HERALD)

Mackenzie Mathews

Nine days a semester, the Confucius Institute sends instructors to the Warren Regional Juvenile Detention Center to give the students a look into Chinese culture.

“We have a very good relationship with Western,” Rebecca Painter, the Center’s science teacher, said. “They supplement us with the fact that we can’t go out on field trips, so they bring it to us.”

Painter uses her self-proclaimed “Science of Living” class to bring diversity and cultural experiences to the students. Throughout the semester, they have learned of Chinese culture, language, geography and celebrations.

To prepare for their final day at the Center, Confucius Institute interns Tan Suya and Xinya Ma brought in traditional foods to discuss Chinese nutrition. Painter decided the Center’s cafeteria needed a mural, so with nutritious fundamentals and the help of independent artist, Pat Ritter, they got to work on April 8.

“With this cultural experience, you’re helping them develop an appreciation for being different,” Painter said. “It’s teaching them it’s okay to be different. Everybody has challenges, but they embrace their challenges.”

The ability to learn about a culture that is different than their own, but is still perceived in a positive light, ignites an interest and willingness to learn among the students. Painter’s goal is that they, as seemingly “cultural outcasts”, understand that human diversity is not only accepted, but good.

“I think they haven’t seen foreigners before,” Suya said. “They’re experiencing a different culture, which makes them very excited and wanting to learn.”

Suya noticed a particular intrigue the students acquired during their cultural lessons, something she and Ma did not expect when they began teaching at the Center. Initially, they were anxious about the students’ attitudes toward the lessons and the atmosphere they would be teaching in. 

“At the very beginning, we had no idea about the Detention Center and the first time I remember going there, we saw the kids,” Ma said. “They are very smart, and they pay attention to the Chinese language and culture.”

For the two instructors, it is important they spread Chinese culture in hopes the students pick up a further interest in it. Their objective is to spread their cultural experience with others.

WKU has visited the Center in many forms in the past and will continue to do so in the future. The philosophy club and Diversity programs went to explain various ideologies, while WKU Libraries’ Kristie Lowry will bring in a poet and author for writing workshops.

“Our goal is to educate them to the point where they’ll leave and have a better life,” Painter said.