Chinese administrators reflect on visits to local districts

<p>Jianguo Sun, the vice principal of Changqing No. 2 Middle School in Xi’an City, China, looks through a history textbook last week at Clara Brownell Middle School as teacher Andrew Traver, left, and Sun's translator, Yung Harbison, observe.</p>

After only four days in eastern Oregon last week, two visiting Chinese school administrators said they were going back to their home country with what they expect to be life-long friendships and partnerships with the administrators in the Hermiston and Umatilla school districts.

Aiping Lan, principal of Yan’an Senior High School in Yan’an City, China, and Jianguo Sun, the vice principal at Changqing No. 2 Middle School in Xi’an City, China, toured the schools in Hermiston and Umatilla, respectively, last week as part of an exchange program offered through the China Exchange Initiative, Shaanxi Provincial Bureau of Education and the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators.

Through the exchange, administrators from China and the United States spend two weeks in each other’s country, learning about the culture and how the education system works. In their first week, the Chinese educators toured East Coast universities, including Harvard. Last week, they shadowed an administrator in their assigned school districts.

Lan shadowed Jon Mishra, Hermiston School District director of operations and business services, and Sun shadowed Dianna Veleke, principal of Clara Brownell Middle School in Umatilla.

Lan said his week in Hermiston gave himself and his American counterparts a better idea of the similarities and differences of the Chinese and American educational systems, and it also gave them the chance to get to know each other better.

“Making friends is important,” he said Thursday through a translator. “It is good for politics and developing world peace.”

One of the things he said he enjoyed seeing the most were the facilities available to Hermiston students. He said most buildings were state of the art, and he was impressed with the amount of technology used in the curriculum. He said the special education departments within each of the schools were very different than what is available in China but seemed to be very beneficial.

“China doesn’t have a special education system,” he said. “Special education students are housed separately at their own school. Students who are blind, deaf, etc., are sent to a separate school.”

Lan said, when Mishra visits China in March, he wants to take him to a special education school so Mishra can see what China’s model is like.

Lan also met Wyatt Harris, a Chinese-born Hermiston High School graduate, who was born without a hand and later adopted by an American family at the age of 4. Lan said meeting Harris and his mother profoundly impacted him.

Harris talked to Lan about how he researched and found his birth parents in a small village in China and realized he was fortunate to have been given a second chance by his adoptive parents in the United States. Lan said they chatted for a while, and he truly connected with Harris.

“No matter where you go in the world, there are good people,” he said. “In the end, there are a lot of good people doing good things.”

Sun said he had a similarly positive experience touring the Umatilla School District with Veleke.

“The overall (atmosphere) was a very nice and welcoming feeling,” he said last week through a translator. “There is a lot of learning that can go on between the U.S. and China.”

One of the things he noticed and said is very exciting to him is how well-behaved the average American student is.

“They generally follow the rules, and they are very respectful,” he said. “I am very happy to see the way they are as citizens.”

One of the main differences between Chinese and America’s education systems is that Americans seem to have less pressure when it comes to their educational achievements and more chances to do leisurely things like sports and electives.

“Chinese students’ pressure to achieve academically is much higher,” he said. “They have to work much harder, longer hours, which leads to less time to pursue their own interests.”

At the same time, he said American teachers have more time to work with students one-on-one, inspire creativity through project-based instruction and that students have opportunities to grow that creativity. He said he will take what he saw of the one-on-one instruction and try to implement it at his school in China.

Sun said when Veleke visits China in March he looks forward to showing her how students in China know all about the United States and other leading world countries and how American students could benefit from additional exposure to other nation’s cultures.

He said students in the United States tend not to know very much about China other than its main tourism attractions. He said he hopes the visit from both of the administrators in the area will help to change that.

Veleke said the experience exchange visit went better than expected and that having Mishra come on board for the exchange further enriched the experience.

“There was a lot richer dialogue and a better exchange in that way,” she said. “I appreciate our entire region of where we are at in Oregon to be able to expose us to such a world-class experience.”

Both Veleke and Mishra said they relish the opportunity to travel to China and learn how its education system operates.

“I hope this is the beginning of a long-lasting friendship, exchange and learning opportunity,” Mishra said. “It has been a very successful exchange.”

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