NASELLE Naselle Superintendent Rick Pass and Business Manager Jon Tienhaara visited China for a week in early November as part of the 2012 Chinese Bridge Delegation trip sponsored and funded by Hanban-Confucius Institute Headquarters.
This was a week-long program in China to help educators begin or strengthen their institutions Chinese programs and partnerships.
Pass and Tienhaara flew to Beijing and then on to the province of Shaanxi, located in the central region of China. Normally, the delegation stays in Beijing during the trip, but many of the top government leaders were replaced during that time and thus the change in plans due to security concerns.
New leaders are taking over for only the fifth time since Communist China was established. This unique time in Chinese history will send ripples throughout the globe, affecting volatile economies, new technology, the Chinese peoples desires for change and Chinas role as an economic giant, Pass explained.
The group included educators and administrators from Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Wyoming. The trip afforded them the chance to share ideas and experiences with one another. A total of 400 educators from 48 states joined the group in China.
Building school bridges
While in China the group visited Chinese K12 schools and postsecondary institutions, met with Chinese educators, observed classes and interacted with students. The purpose of the trip was to continue to establish meaningful partnerships with Chinese education institutions and network with U.S. colleagues.
The group attended presentations on best practices and gathered resources to build and support Chinese language and culture programs. The chance to experience China firsthand and marvel at the rich traditional culture set against stunning modern development most impressed Pass.
Selection priority was given to K-12 district administrators, school leaders and other education decision-makers actively seeking to develop new and expanded Chinese programs. Naselle is working to bring Mandarin as a second language to their Columbia Virtual Academy students statewide, creating opportunities for all Naselle students to learn Mandarin through the Internet and continuing to plan for a possible Mandarin program in the elementary school at Naselle. We also plan to create contacts for our teachers to use in their classrooms as Naselle continues to expand its global education opportunities, Pass said.
I wanted to experience the Chinese culture as much as I could in the week we were there. I wanted to gain some type of understanding of what the people were like, what types of conditions they live in and what the government effect is on the people, Tienhaara said. Many people tend to look at China as having a superior education system to the U.S. I wanted to see this for myself and attempt to understand how their system works. I also met several principals and teachers who are interested in establishing a relationship with Naselle School District. This includes student-to-student projects, teacher-student exchanges and other cultural education opportunities.
Tienhaara added, Most of the students speak English and so it was nice hearing them talk about themselves. I also enjoyed visiting the Tara Cotta Warriors and the Great Wall of China. I went to China expecting a lot of government oppression. I didnt really see any other than filtered Internet.
Capitalism appears to be booming and the government encourages economic growth. While we were in China, the communist government transitioned to a new government body. Most of the older leaders are gone and were replaced by younger ones. The newspapers over there were saying how the new leadership hopes to allow China to evolve in many ways, including economic growth, Tienhaara related.
I expected the Chinese to look at Americans perhaps as a threat. I found all the teachers, principals and students to very much admire the United States. They want to be our friends and allies, said Tienhaara. They all were telling us, We want to be your friends, we want to be an ally of the U.S. China depends on the U.S. for much of their economic growth. They desire to learn from our education system and want to work with the U.S. in many global issues.
The traffic is horrible, Tienhaara stated. In the city of Xian (about 8 million people) there are a lot more vehicles than roads. There are always traffic jams. There was no vandalism, no signs of gang activity and no trash. On some of the days smog was so bad it smelled like a slash burn, Tienhaara noted.
China appeared to be backwards in many ways. Their power lines are bundled together and strapped to trees, branches and poles if they happen to be there. What a mess, Tienhaara stated. The villages are still very much based in agriculture and are just now going through the Industrial Revolution.
Students go to school from 7:30 a.m. until about 5:30p.m. or 6 p.m. They then go to mandatory study table from 8 p.m. until 11 p.m. Many of the students live on campus and go home on weekends. Chinas education system has a desire to increase the creative ability of their students.
Not once did Tienhaara feel unsafe while in China. We were out in the market many times late at night with thousands of people. There was no cause for concern. The guards and police were friendly. It felt very safe, he explained.
Language program possible
Naselle has the opportunity to bring a significant cultural and language program to the area. Schools all over the country are implementing new programs because of the global economy students of the future will be faced with.
Mandarin Chinese is the most spoken language in the world and is the most desired second language after English. Chinas economy is growing and there are numerous opportunities beginning to emerge. Speaking their language just makes sense. It is also a necessity for our national security. It is good for all kids in the U.S., Tienhaara concluded.
The Naselle School District last June discussed implementation of education in the Mandarin Chinese language, but the board decided to table the matter until more information could be gathered.
Research points to the amazing ability of children to learn second, third and more languages until about the age of 11. Kids brains are more able to acquire language in ways that are almost impossible for older students and adults. We have visited seven schools from Seattle to Lansing, Mi. Every principal has shown us their immersion students not only meet expectations in state level math and reading tests, they far exceed them, Pass explained.