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Taiwanese Mother Prizes Briarcliff Chinese School

Eileen Lee has an agreement with her family that their weekend does not start until after 12 p.m. on Saturdays, when the kids get out of their Chinese school in Briarcliff.

Lee is the principal of the Northern Westchester Chinese School that meets each Saturday from 9 a.m to noon at the Briarcliff Middle School. She's serious about Chinese because she wants her 10-year-old twin boys to grow up knowing her native language which her husband doesn't speak because he's not Chinese.

"The kids love it because they love their friends, and it's rewarding when you see them speak Chinese," she said.

Lee's children have had to miss some Saturday morning sporting events.  Her husband is in charge of ensuring that the boys play football and baseball, and she is in charge of ensuring that they learn Chinese and piano.

Lee, who now lives in Garrison, was born in Taiwan and immigrated to the U.S. when she was in middle school. She began searching for a Chinese school in Westchester when her twins were four years old and found the NWCS, which at that time was in Somers.

The NWCS was started in Yorktown in 1969 by a group of IBM employees from Taiwan who wanted their children to speak, read and write Chinese as they did. The school opened with 21 students in one classroom and expanded over the years. After being housed in Yorktown and then Somers for over 10 years, the school moved to the present location Briarcliff in 2006.

The school currently serves 145 families who travel from as far away as Poughkeepsie to attend classes. There are classes for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, as well as some for adults. There is a size limit of 15 students, and quizzes are given every week to assess how well students are learning.

Since the NWCS is run by volunteers, and teachers are paid only a very minimal salary, the school is very affordable. Tuition costs about $495 per year.

"I love the quality of teachers," Lee said. "I see how devoted they are. I have teachers who teach 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and then volunteer from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. to give extra help."

Students are also devoted to learning, Lee added. She told a story of a student who went out to a party until 12 a.m. and then spent three hours from midnight to 3 a.m. doing Chinese homework.

"They're proud to know Chinese," Lee said. "My kids say they will be able to translate to their dad when we go for an overseas trip."

There are two learning tracks in the NWCS: Track A is for students who speak Chinese at home and Track B is for those who don't. In addition to Chinese language classes from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., the school also offers elective classes form 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. in origami, Chinese dance, Chinese calligraphy, Chinese chess and Chinese painting.

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