Gliding through her classroom this week with great energy and a good sense of humor, Yang Yi steered her students through the subtleties of Mandarin Chinese, teaching them to pronounce basic words and phrases like "Hello teacher."
Yi, 27, is the guest teacher from Tianjin No. 2 High School in Tianjin, China, who is heading up the Lewiston-Porter school district's fledgling Chinese Language and Culture Program, which began Monday.
Her arrival is the culmination of a more than three-year effort on the part of Lew-Port High School Principal Paul J. Casseri and representatives from the Chinese school.
On her third day of classes, Yi appeared to blend in well, overseeing three classes during the day with a total of 24 students. She will begin working with middle schoolers and intermediate school pupils in about two or three weeks.
Very animated, Yi showed students the wide variation of sounds that come with Chinese vowels -- each having five distinct pronunciations -- and gave examples of how those sounds blend into words.
Teaching a variation on the Chinese equivalent for the letter "a", she sang "ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah."
"Just like in music," she said, making her students laugh.
She went over words and phrases like hello, my name is, thank you, goodbye and student, calling on different students to repeat them or make responses to short questions in Chinese.
"This is hard," said senior Melissa Smith after pronouncing a word properly in Chinese. Another senior, Gabrielle Corsaro, agreed. Both are going to China in April.
Though Chinese is difficult, Melissa said, "It's fun. I'm learning. But it helps that I have Wu Dan living with me. She teachers me stuff at home. I hope I'll have some of the basics down by the time we go to China."
Wu, a 15-year-old 10th-grader from Tianjin, is among 13 Chinese high school students also currently at Lew-Port. She said she was "having fun," and called Melissa "a good student."
"She'll learn Chinese," Wu said.
Since half of her students will be heading to China this spring, Yi said her game plan is "to get them comfortable with the language to some extent. I'll teach them some basic words and phrases they will find useful when they're in China. I'll try to teach them enough so they can ask for things, get directions and say what they need to and be polite.
"Most important to me is I want to give them an accurate impression of what China is really like today," Yi said, and not as someone might imagine it from a 1920s-era movie.
"I want to get them more interested in the language by introducing them to the Chinese culture and the Chinese nation," Yi said.
She said she wants to teach the students about things like the Great Wall and the Yellow Mountains; China's endangered species, like the great panda, the golden monkey and the Chinese crocodile; and wax printing and Chinese knots.
Mostly, Yi said, "I want to give them the idea that Chinese is fun and not hard."
She's been teaching English at Tianjin No. 2 for more than four years.
Tianjin, the third largest metropolitan area in China, is a commercial and industrial port city on the country's northeast coast, about 85 miles southeast of the Chinese capital, Beijing.
Accompanying Yi and the Chinese students are a principal and three teachers from the same school. They are the second wave of a student exchange program between the two sister schools. It began a year ago, when 17 Chinese students stayed with families in the local district and 13 Lew-Port students went to stay with Chinese families.
This year, a dozen Lew-Port students will stay in China from April 1 to 19 while they attend Tianjin No. 2 High School and see other parts of the country.
The current delegation of Chinese students and their school's staff members will remain here until Monday. Then they will leave their Lew-Port families and go on with some Lew-Port High School officials and about 20 Lew-Port students for a trip to Washington, D.C, during Lew-Port's winter break. They'll fly back to Tianjin on Feb. 14.
Yi will remain here for the spring semester while living at the homes of a staff member and two district families.
The Lew-Port students traveling to China in April are: Anthony Beltracci, Jenna Brydges, Elizabeth David, James Ging, David Gaughan, Amy Law, T.J. Maries, Tiegan Monteleone, Karissa Oddy, James Otis, April Parkhill, Melissa Smith and Gabrielle Corsaro.
The Chinese exchange students are: Song Lifu, Wang Xinqiao, Shi Yidan, Li Chunxiao, Hu Rongwei, Liu Yuxiao, Zheng Fupei, Zhang Hongguang, Zhang Xinyue, Mu Hainan, Cui Xuchen, Wang Xiaoqing and Wu Dan.