'Ni Hao!': Chinese Group Visits Two Schools
Union Pines High School and New Century Middle School greeted a delegation from their Chinese sister schools with a great big “Ni hao!” Thursday.
Principals, teachers and officials from the Jiangsu Province’s Department of Education visited both schools as part of a tour around North Carolina to learn about the state’s kindergarten through 12th-grade education and higher education systems through the Center for International Understanding at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Union Pines Principal Robin Lea and New Century Principal Robin Calcutt were happy to host the group after being welcomed at Jiangyin No. 1 High School, their sister school in China, more than two years ago.
In 2009, the two visited China with a delegation of educators from North Carolina to learn about the Chinese education system and to develop a sister school partnership with a combined middle and high school in Juangyin, a large city considered to be one of the most important cities located on the Yangzte River.
“I was very proud of our schools and that we had the opportunity to reciprocate the generosity and welcomeness they showed us in China,” Calcutt said Friday.
The group has been in North Carolina since Sept. 18, touring various schools around the state, covering 12 counties, as well as visiting Duke University, N.C. State University and UNC-Chapel Hill.
On Thursday, the group enjoyed a traditional Southern lunch at the Pik N Pig in Carthage before touring the two schools, where students had the opportunity to participate in a question-and-answer session with Chen Hua, principal of Jiangyin No. 1 High School, while Yi Yang, a representative from the Chinese state department, helped translate.
At New Century Middle School, questions began simply — “What do students wear?” (uniforms), “What sports do you have?” (most sports that are also in the United States) — but as the conversation went on, students were more curious about the culture and lives of their counterparts in Juangyin.
Hua told students that all Chinese students are expected to take the same courses — Chinese, English, math, physics, among other sciences, and some forms of art and athletics — but the Chinese educational system is very competitive.
One student asked Hua how teachers in China have been affected by the economic downturn in the global economy, adding that budget cuts that are a result of the sluggish economy have drastically affected how teachers in Moore County do their jobs.
Hua thanked the student for thinking globally and answered by saying that the Chinese economy has not suffered, and it has actually grown over the past three years.
Another student asked Hua about religion in China.
Hua smiled at this question and answered, “Many people believe different religions in China. I am a member of the Communist Party, but we have other people who believe in Buddhism and Taoism.”
According to the Council on Foreign Relations, an independent, nonpartisan membership organization and think tank, China does not have an official religion, and the Chinese Communist Party is officially atheist, though it has become more tolerant of other religions in the last 20 years. The Chinese Constitution allows “freedom of religious belief,” but some religious groups still encounter suppression.
Vincent Jones, an eighth-grader who helped present New Century drawstring bags to those from the sister school, enjoyed learning about how students his age live in China.
“It was cool to listen to people from a different country talk,” he said. “[Chinese] is a whole lot faster and it’s longer.”
He was surprised to learn that one class could have up to 50 students and some students, because they must travel farther to attend, live at the school during the year.
“It’s weird because sometimes, I think kids want to go home and relax instead of staying at school,” Jones said. “I couldn’t do that. I would have to go home and see my mom and dad.”
After the session, the group watched with amazement as students hurried to big, yellow school buses during dismissal. In China, most students walk or ride bikes to school.
As the group toured the campus, Yi Yang said the delegation was interested in discovering aspects of the U.S. educational system that could be used in Jiangyin.
“All the principals want to see the difference between the Chinese education system and the American one,” he said. “They want to take some of the American system back to China and maybe put it to use.”
Yang added that it is hard to compare the two systems with each other because they are so different structurally and philosophically.
He said that in China, students attend schools based on their academic performance, which is assessed by tests. This system is more competitive because students are always working to get into better schools, whereas in the U.S., many students attend the public schools located in their attendance districts.
“All courses are fixed in what is considered a ‘standard education,’” Yang said. “Here, students have so many choices.”
The group was also impressed with the media center’s wide variety of books and resources. But they said they would send the school new books on China because so much has changed in the country since the books were published more than 10 years ago.
Calcutt said she was very impressed with her students’ enthusiasm for meeting the group, and she enjoyed answering the many questions that the delegates had.
“They’re very interested in seeing how we teach,” she said. “They were shocked that we had choices [in terms of classes and activities], but that we didn’t have choices for schools because of attendance standards in the U.S.”
‘All One World’
As the partnership moves forward, Calcutt hopes to foster more direct interaction with her students and their sister school.
Last year, Union Pines students worked with students at Jiangyin to complete science activities through a new program called Live Learning Rocket, an educational social media website that helps facilitate global learning by connecting to classrooms around the world.
Calcutt hopes that as the relationship grows, there will be more local support for the sister school program as well. Union Pines and New Century currently share their partnership with Clayton Middle School in Johnston County.
“It does take a lot of effort to get the buy-in and the enthusiasm,” she said.
Touring with the group was a visiting Jiangyin teacher, Peihong Zhang, who has been teaching at Jesse Carson High School in Rowan County for the past two years.
Jesse Carson Principal Kelly Withers said Zhang has helped develop and generate significant interest for Mandarin Chinese language classes at the school.
Calcutt said she would love to see similar opportunities for Moore County come out of the partnership.
“That is a dream of mine, that we could have a language immersion program,” she said. “I see value in increasing our foreign language at younger grade levels.”
Calcutt added that the economy just isn’t conducive for the pursuit of such an endeavor now, but she said that high school students do have access to a wider range of foreign language options, including Mandarin Chinese, through the N.C. Virtual Public School, which offers online courses.
Though the partnership offers a wide range of opportunities to explore, Calcutt believes the bottom line is about fostering international connections that will prepare students for an increasingly globalized world.
“It’s about global education,” she said. “We’re trying to prepare our students for working with people across the world. Having that idea that we’re all one world helps us enrich each other’s lives.”
Contact Hannah Sharpe at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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