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MERIDIAN -- A school in Meridian may be the first of its kind in the state.

The Gateway School of Language and Culture will offer an intense Mandarin Chinese program to some of its students this year.

It's predicted the language will be dominant in the business world of the future, and teachers hope to equip Idaho kids with the edge they need to succeed.

When you step into the Gateway School you suddenly feel like you're in the Far East. Its classrooms and halls are covered wall-to-wall in an Asian theme.

And teachers are prepared to step it up a notch.

They're going to call me Li Lao Shi, which means Mr. Lee, Are they going to learn that on the first day? Yes, yes, said teacher Peng Li.

Peng Li is one of three teachers who will put students on the path to global enlightenment and education.

Studies show kids who learn a foreign language early have a better of chance of being fluent, and at Gateway, about 40 kids in kindergarten and first grade will be exposed to it in classrooms like Li's.

They'll be taught for half a day in English, the rest in Mandarin Chinese.

Teachers will follow the general Meridian curriculum, but the immersion program will add an additional Asian flare -- and for good reason.

People look at China to be the next strongest country to, shoulder to shoulder to America, said Li.

What's the world going to look like 15-20 years from now when these kids are entering college, leaving college, entering the workforce? And it was really hard when you look at that crystal ball and try to look at what the world is going to look like to think that China isn't going to be a major player and what an opportunity we can give to students right here in Meridian and Boise, said Gateway Principal Craig Ayala-Marshall.

Ayala-Marshall says the district plans to add Mandarin Chinese courses in junior high and high schools as the kindergartners and first graders age.

The belief is the students who stick to the program will be ready to compete on an international stage.

After 12-13 years in our school system, they should come out fully bilingual, said Ayala-Marshall.

And fully fluent in Chinese culture.

Teacher Peng Li will make sure of that.

I have this mission to just share the language, share the culture and just bring as much as I can, said Li.

The Mandarin Chinese immersion program is only offered to kindergartners and first grade right now.

All of the other students in the school will learn the language for about an hour a week, and that's something the school has done for a couple years.

If you want to sign your child up for this program, it is not too late. Call the school soon though, as classes start on Monday.

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