중앙데일리

Schools that specialize get the kids

Revivals led by Chinese classes and golf lessons

Apr 16,2016
Clockwise from left: students from Sochon Elementary School walk through a cypress forest, which helps control their atopic dermatitis; students from Habin Elementary School take golf lessons; and students at Gachang Elementary School learn Chinese. [DAEGU METROPOLITAN OFFICE OF EDUCATION, EACH ELEMENTARY SCHOOL]
Schools in the suburbs of Daegu that were nearly shut down due to a lack of students have turned crisis into opportunity by adopting special curricula, offering Chinese, golf and music lessons. Some started atopic dermatitis treatment, and parents and students flocked to them.

Some 23 schools are taking part in Daegu’s innovation project, which is called “Happiness Schools.” After starting these novel classes, the schools caught the attention of mothers with high ambitions for their children. The project not only increased the competitiveness of the schools, but also helped revive the suburban areas around them.

Gachang Elementary School in Dalseong County, which goes by the nickname “Chinese School” among parents, offers three hours of Chinese language after-school classes per week for students from grades one to six. When they reach fifth grade, they can attend a sister school in Ningbo, China, through an exchange program. The after-school classes are subsidized by the Daegu Metropolitan Office of Education and Dalseong County. Word is already going around among parents that many students in Gachang Elementary School are capable of conversing in Chinese by the sixth grade.

Some parents from urban areas have even moved to Gachang, which is surrounded by farms, to take advantage of the Chinese language education. As a result, more than 100 of the 147 students now attending the school originally come from the city. This is a sharp turnaround, as only three years ago, Gachang Elementary School had only 46 students and was on the brink of being shut down.

“The school became famous after former principal Lee Sang-keun, who once worked at the Tianjin International School in China, incorporated a Chinese curriculum,” said Oh Sang-mok, the current principal.

According to local real estate brokers, housing prices in the area jumped as more students transferred to Gachang Elementary School.

“I came to see Gachang because I heard the school is not only good at teaching Chinese, but English as well,” said Ha Ji-won, 40. “Housing prices were higher than I expected, and I was surprised to see not many houses for sale.”

Sochon Elementary School, located at the foot of Mount Palgong, started a mission for curing atopic dermatitis to avoid the school’s closure in 2011. At the time, it only had 65 students. After the school became known for treating the condition, which causes itchy, cracked skin, students from all over the nation came to the school. Now, 93 students - 77 percent of the total 120 students enrolled - suffer from atopic dermatitis.

“The teachers pooled their efforts and used the natural environment to create an eco-friendly school,” said Park Jeong-eun, 47, a teacher. “We planted hinoki cypress in the school. When people heard that the environment around the school was rich in phytoncides, which is good for treating atopic dermatitis, students came rushing in.”

Students take a 20-minute walk starting from 10:30 a.m. every day on a trail through a cypress forest. In class, students only wear clothes made from natural fibers and dyes, which cause no irritation to the skin. Students with severe cases of atopic dermatitis take special baths in a tub made from hinoki cypress.

In 2013, Gongsan Elementary School was almost closed because it had only 79 students. Habin Elementary School had only 54. The two schools avoided such a fate by offering lessons in golf. Gongsan Elementary has golf facilities on 260 square meters (2,800 square feet) of space. Habin’s facilities are 500 square meters.

The school offers two hours of golf lessons every week to all students. Within two years, the number of students increased to 90 in Gongsan and 97 in Habin.

“Golf saved the school,” said Chae Cheon-soo, 58, the principal of Habin Elementary School. “Without golf, the number of students would have further dwindled, and the school would be closed already.”

Joya Elementary School offers 60 hours of music lessons in a year. Yuga Elementary School offers wind instrument lessons eight hours a week. Weolseong Elementary School teaches the flute for four hours a week. All three have prospered.

“The number of elementary, middle and high school students in Daegu decreased from 221,056 in 2014 to 210,565 in 2015,” an official from the Daegu Metropolitan Office of Education said. “In the same period, the number of students in the Happiness Schools rose by 3.5 percent from 2,682 to 2,775.”

Taejeon Elementary School includes gukak, traditional Korean music, in its curriculum. Sindang Middle School offers choir lessons. All three were nearly shut down.

“Daegu will increase the number of Happiness Schools offering special educational classes to 83 by 2018,” said Woo Tong-ki, 64, Daegu’s education superintendent.

BY KIM YOUN-HO [shin.sooyeon@joongang.co.kr]


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