In a Casper classroom near you, kids are learning in both English and Chinese.

Paradise Valley Elementary School is three months into its pilot Chinese dual-language immersion program, and initial feedback indicates students and parents are very happy with the program, the school’s principal recently told the Natrona County School District Board of Trustees. The board will vote Monday on whether to continue funding the program. Also up for discussion: Park Elementary School is eyeing a Spanish dual-language program to start next fall.

Parents seem universally pleased with the dual-language program at Paradise Valley, and rightfully so. The students are at just the right age to absorb both languages like a sponge.

It’s certainly possible to question the dual-language program on a number of fronts, but let’s focus on one aspect: the choice of Chinese. Why Chinese instead of some other language?

Simply this: The 6,122 miles that separate Beijing and Casper mean less than ever before.

The economic relationship between China and the U.S. has never been more important. China is the U.S.’s top trading partner — a maker of many of the goods we use every day. The economic ties between the U.S. and China continue to expand as China’s economy grows. The sheer size of the numbers is staggering: U.S.-China trade rose from $5 billion in 1981 to $536 billion last year — more than a hundred-fold jump.

Even landlocked Wyoming is looking to Chinese and Asian markets as a future home for the state’s goods, including coal. China’s currently a destination for the state’s products, although it’s a relatively tiny export market. Worth only $10 million in 2012 it ranks

No. 25 compared to Canada, Australia and Brazil — our top three buyers. Still, exports to China more than doubled from 2011-2012. Wyoming’s a much bigger buyer of Chinese goods. With imports worth $104 million in 2012, China’s our second biggest seller after Canada and its oil.

But Wyoming leaders hope China will move up the ranks of buyers for Wyoming products. Wyoming has continued to develop ties with China and the region, including a visit from a Wyoming delegation led by Gov. Matt Mead to China last year and a Mead visit to Korea and Taiwan this year to talk business and expanding relations.

Meanwhile, plans to build coal export terminals on the West Coast to ship Powder River Basin coal to Asia continue. The pieces are falling into place for Wyoming’s access to Chinese and Asian markets.

But there’s a piece missing. The size, scale and complexity of the the economic relationship between the two countries and the emerging connection between Wyoming and China and other Asian markets demand expert and sophisticated handling. This calls for ambassadors — not strictly those attached to the State Department, but Wyoming kids who cannot only get coal out of the ground, they can sell it to a huge market in a language it understands.

Wyoming has a history of pragmatism, willing to sell its products to willing buyers, wherever they are. The dual-language program sets up Wyoming students to sell the state’s goods in the future. These children are our future ambassadors. Learning the language is a great start, and we applaud and support the school district, its school administrators, teachers and parents for seeing and meeting the need.

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