Every Saturday, more than 100 students study language, culture and more at Shaker Middle School.
By Jennifer Proe
When Melody Chu and Eric Yeh moved to Shaker in 2018 from the west side of Cleveland, it brought their family much closer to Eric’s job at University Hospitals. Another great benefit? It also brought them closer to the school their two daughters attend every Saturday morning: the Chinese Academy of Cleveland, housed at Shaker Middle School.
The Chinese Academy of Cleveland, founded in 1973, enrolls more than 100 students, 16 of whom hail from Shaker Heights; the rest come from all over the Cleveland area. About one-third have emigrated from Taiwan, a few are from mainland China, and the remainder are American-born Chinese or non-Chinese families.
Many are looking to deepen their children’s knowledge of their native language and heritage. Some are Americans who have adopted children from China or Taiwan and are seeking to provide a connection with the language and culture. CAOC also offers Chinese as a second language for adults.
Whatever the reason, says Grace Lin, a board member and former academic director for CAOC, “We do attract a lot of families to our school because we are the only one in the area that teaches traditional (or complex) Chinese characters as well as the simplified characters. If you want to understand how the word was created, you have to learn the traditional character first.”
CAOC also has the highest ratio of teachers who are licensed by the Ohio Department of Education. “Our teachers are longtime residents here so they understand both cultures,” says Lin.
Melody and Eric chose CAOC because “we don’t speak Chinese at home but we wanted our children to retain a sense of the language and culture. I didn’t go to Chinese school when I was younger, but I remember my friends who did really didn’t like it,” says Melody. “Our experience has been so much more positive. Our girls have fun and the teachers are warm and engaging.”
The Middle School is an ideal home for the school; parents can gather in the cafeteria to socialize while their children spread out to 19 different classrooms for instruction. They also have access to the art room for calligraphy classes, as well as the gym. That space came in handy for teaching their families a traditional Taiwanese dance the school performed as part of a Lunar New Year celebration at a Cleveland Cavaliers game this winter.
Says Lin, “The location in Shaker is convenient not only because many of our families are employees of the Cleveland Clinic or Case Western Reserve University, but also because the community is so diversified and welcoming. We feel safe here, and we are very grateful the Middle School continues to let us use their facilities. The administrators and the custodians are very supportive.”
The academy is also grateful for its connection with Margaret Wong, a longtime Shaker resident and prominent immigration attorney who sits on the board of the Friends of CAOC. Wong is an avid supporter of the academy, and recently helped to bring a group of senior citizens to the Cavs’ game to watch the Lunar New Year performance.
This summer, CAOC will offer a one-week cultural camp for kids ages 5-12, which Lin hopes will provide even more opportunities to connect with Shaker residents. “You don’t need to have any Chinese learning or background,” says Lin.
“It’s the perfect opportunity to come sample Chinese art, food, music, sport, and dance.” The camp runs from June 8 – 12 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Contact Grace Lin at email@example.com or visit Chineseacademyofcleveland.org.
Originally published in Shaker Life, Spring 2020.