(CBS News) MACON, Georgia - A failing school district in Macon, Georgia, where half the 25,000 students fail to graduate, has taken drastic steps to turn the system around -- and it includes an unusual mandate.
At Sonny Carter Elementary School, third-graders are learning the most widely spoken language on earth: Mandarin Chinese.
Learning Mandarin is now mandatory in Macon, Georgia, public schools.
Mark Fuller has Mandarin class three days a week, taught by one of 25 Chinese teachers sent to Macon from China, their salaries partially subsidized by the Chinese government.
"I like learning new things. I like learning the words... It's just awesome," Fuller said.
Within three years all 25,000 kids at all Bibb County Schools will be taking Mandarin. This is one of Georgia's lowest achieving school systems, where half the kids drop out.
Romain Dallemand is the new superintendent for Bibb County Schools, and he wants big change for this troubled system.
"This is about opening their world. This is about preparing these students to compete in a 21st century, multi-ethnic economy," Dellemand said.
He's Haitian-born and spoke only Creole until he came to America in the ninth grade. He made Mandarin mandatory over the objections of many Macon parents.
"Nothing I've read convinces me this is the way, this is the language, this is the avenue that schools need to take," said Macon parent Sandie Parker.