Kristin Epstein has been appointed executive director of the nonprofit YingHua International School on River Road. Previously the director of development, she succeeds Natalie Ye, who is ending her third year as executive director and is transitioning to a part-time role at the school. Epstein is the school’s first administrator who does not have Chinese heritage.

Founded in 2007, YingHua International School is a full-time independent school for preschool through elementary grades. More than 50 students are taught in Mandarin Chinese by native Mandarin speakers. Twelve of the 14 staff are native Mandarin speakers, and all of the elementary grade teachers possess Masters Degrees from American Universities.

Epstein, who grew up in Georgia, where her father was a scientist at Georgia Tech and her mother a homemaker, graduated from Princeton and Johns Hopkins. She was previously a consulting engineer for Environ in Carnegie Center, before taking time off to focus on her children and engage in community service. In 2008 Epstein revived the dormant chapter of the Princeton Area Alumni Association and served as president for five years. She also volunteered with the girl scouts and public schools.

The new director is married to John Epstein, a fellow Princeton University alumnus who is now an ophthalmologist with the Princeton Eye Group on Harrison Street. The couple lives in West Windsor.

“It is no longer enough to be competent in your field,” Epstein says. “Employers are eager for employees who also possess full-depth knowledge of a second language and cultural sensitivity.”

Epstein’s daughter enrolled at YingHua International School at the beginning of this school year as a second grader. Her family has no background in Mandarin, but she was motivated to add this extra layer of education on top of the typical U.S. curriculum.

School founder and head Bonnie Liao says she was impressed with Epstein’s enthusiasm for advancing Mandarin language education as well as internationally-focused and inquiry-based learning. The school takes pride in its rigorous academic approach. As the website says:

“When asked why they choose Chinese for their children, many parents cite the international status that China has gained due to its tremendous economic growth in recent years, while others refer to the linguistic status of Mandarin Chinese as the most widely-spoken language in the world. At YHIS, we also believe Chinese language education is particularly well-suited to the early education setting because Mandarin Chinese is defined by the Foreign Service Institute of the U.S. State Department as a ‘Category 3’ language, one of the most difficult languages to learn for native English speakers. Attaining fluency in Mandarin Chinese requires 2,200 class hours, with about half that time preferably spent studying in-country.”

YingHua International School, 33 River Road, Princeton. 609-375-8015. info@yhis.org. www.yhis.org. The school is accepting applications for the 2013-’14 school year and its summer camp.

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