The after school Hindi program is run by the US Hindi Association (USHA), the brainchild of Prerana Vaidya and Ruchita Parat.
Ruchita, an IIT-K graduate who worked at Oracle for 7 years, quit her job when she felt she wasn’t paying enough attention to her kids. When she realized that she was unable to teach her kids Hindi at home, she enrolled them in the Chinmaya Mission’s Hindi classes and began volunteering there.
She soon realized the need for a more organized curriculum and set about designing one. Eventually, a syllabus was designed for 4 years of Hindi study, one that would enable the student to fluently read and write Hindi and have some amount of conversational skills in the language.
The curriculum received great parent reviews.At this point Prerana Vaidya, who had also considered Hindi classes for her children, felt that there was an enormous potential for enlarging the reach of this program.
Prerana runs a business development and corporate finance consultancy called Third Rock Partners. She felt that limiting the access of the program to members of the Chinmaya organization was not fully realizing the possibilities of the language. Also removing the community, religious feel to the program would make it more palatable to kids. She was keen to inculcate the love she had for the poetic language in the next generation of Indian Americans in the Bay Area. She brought her management expertise to the project and soon she and Ruchita decided to start an organization to give the nascent idea wings. USHA was created as a non profit company.
Prerana and Ruchita feel that Hindi has the potential to someday become an accredited course in Bay Area colleges. For this purpose, a feeder system has been started by making Hindi available as an after school program, like Mandarin or Spanish. Last year, USHA started 13 classes in various schools in the Bay Area.
USHA found a core of dedicated teachers fully committed to the program and keen on growing with the organization. Chitra Jayaraman was one of its fortunate finds. She also teaches at the Chinmaya Mission and finds the USHA curriculum very well structured. She also likes the fact that she has a say in how many students she can have in a class. “A class of 10 kids means I can give them so much more attention,” she says. Also USHA’s paying parents are much more motivated to be partners in their child’s education. This and the fact that the class meets in the school itself ensures that the children attend every class.
How much support is expected from parents at home? Most kids in the Hindi program have non-Hindi speaking parents. Given that the environment and media are not conducive to learning through osmosis, the USHA teachers face an uphill task. “It is extremely challenging and sometimes frustrating,” says Chitra. She has a couple of children in her class with non-Asian mothers and there the problem is compounded. “Most children do not want to talk in Hindi so conversational Hindi is a challenge. We have learned to be very innovative. We use little items and the children have to come up and make sentences.” I asked her why it was important to make the children read and write Hindi. Surely it had no practical merit? Says Chitra, “I found that the kids wanted to read because they want to read signs in India."
She feels grammar is another big hurdle. Ruchita’s excellent textbooks help. Also, materials like a pronunciation key and graded textbooks make it possible for parents to help and be supportive.
The program guarantees reading and writing. And “If at one hour a week someone can learn to speak a foreign language fluently, I would like to enroll myself,” laughs Ruchita. “Our objective is to teach them simple sentences. By level 3 they are reading fluently. By level 4 they are taking it further where they can write a bit on their own.” An immersion approach to the language is not possible because of the youth of the students and limited time per week.
USHA’s business model completely incentivises the teachers. Classes typically cost $350 for a set of 30 and run through the school year. After deducting cost of materials, almost 60 to 70% goes to the teachers who are independent contractors. The rest is plowed back into development. Prerana and Ruchita do not take a salary. Also USHA makes an effort to give the teachers locations close to home to make it convenient.
The teachers are provided training and given a core set of guidelines. They are also provided the teaching aids. Materials like Hindi jigsaw puzzles, games, placemats legitimize the subject and make it more acceptable in the eyes of their mostly American born students. Strangely enough, a lot of the demand for the class comes from non-Hindi speaking families.
Online registration for their programs can be found here. USHA is always looking for teachers. You can also contact them through the site if interested.
Check out their site for Summer Hindi Camps as well.
U S Hindi Association
P.O. Box 60604, Palo Alto, CA 94306
Phone: (650) 384-0412 Fax: (650) 745-7007