Sharing ideas, cultures

<p>Brandon Bensen, a seventh-grade student at Clara Brownell Middle School, dressed up especially for Jianguo Sun’s arrival at the school Monday. Sun serves as the vice principal of the Changqing No. 2 Middle School in Xi’an City, China, and will be in Umatilla for a week as he shadows CBMS Principal Dianna Veleke, left.</p>

Monday marked the beginning of what could be a long bi-cultural friendship between the Hermiston and Umatilla school districts and two secondary schools in China.

Jianguo Sun, vice principal of the Changqing No. 2 Middle School in Xi’an City, China, and Aiping Lan, principal of Yan’an Senior High School in Yan’an City, China, arrived to Umatilla and Hermiston, respectively, Monday as part of an exchange program. Through the program, administrators from one country are paired with a school in another, which they travel to and visit for a week. The week prior to the shadowing period, they spend one week touring a part of the country they are visiting, which allows them to get a better feel of the culture.

The Chinese administrators spent all of last week touring schools on the East Coast, including Harvard University, entrance to which they consider a landmark achievement for Chinese students pursuing a post-secondary education in America.

This week, both administrators were taken to their individual partnering school agencies. Lan began his journey in Hermiston with Jon Mishra, director of operations and business services in the Hermiston School District, whom he will be shadowing for the week. He was welcomed Monday with a breakfast with all of the administrators at the district office, where he presented a colorful, hand-made fabric art piece. He will spend the rest of his time in Hermiston touring school buildings and observing classrooms.

Sun was greeted with an elaborate assembly at Clara Brownell Middle School in Umatilla, which featured the school band, an exchange of gifts, where Sun presented a silver coin from his school, and the opportunity for Sun to formally introduce himself to the students at the school. Clara Brownell staff members presented him with a key to the school and a Umatilla Vikings shirt. He will spend the week shadowing Clara Brownell Principal Dianna Veleke and will also have the opportunity to tour and observe the schools within the district throughout the week.

“I am very grateful for the opportunity,” Sun said through a translator Monday.

Sun said he is mostly interested in seeing how American teachers encourage creativity and individualism within their school setting, as opposed to the strict, lecture-based instruction in the Chinese education system.

“China’s education is lacking in this area,” he said. “We desire to improve.”

Sun said there are many differences between the American and Chinese education systems, with one being that, in China, teachers rotate to different classes to meet the students instead of students moving classrooms to attend their various classes as they do in America. Chinese students also go to school from about 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday. They must take entrance exams to get into both high school and college, and the schools they are placed in are determined by their test scores.

Lan spent the rest of the afternoon Monday touring the Hermiston High School building and Kennison athletics facility. He said through a translator that he was very impressed with the amount of technology students utilized in the classrooms and the extent that the Hermiston School Districts goes to ensure students have access to premiere athletics facilities.

Being an avid American basketball fan, Lan said he is looking forward to seeing some secondary school basketball games this week.

“I am very impressed with how Americans push athleticism,” he said.

Even though the American and Chinese school systems differ in many ways, Lan said there are a lot of similarities, as well.

“We teach the same things,” he said.

His translator reiterated that whereas students in the United States have to meet requirements in science, math and language arts, Chinese students have to meet those same requirements, in addition to learning English.

Both Chinese administrators’ last days in the district will be Thursday. They will spend the day Friday catching up with the other Chinese administrators in the program, who were mostly based on the west side of Oregon, before boarding their flight back to China.

In March, both Veleke and Mishra will travel to China for two weeks. Their first week will be spent touring Beijing and participating in a seminar. The following week, they will shadow Lan and Sun at their individual schools.

“I think this is going to be a long-established partnership,” Mishra said. “It is really a neat deal to be able to participate in something like this.”

Veleke, Mishra, Lan and Sun all expressed their support for the partnership because it allows each school to learn and grow from one another.

“These exchanges are going to (offer) more ways to get better and better,” Lan said.

Veleke, who has spent the past few months preparing for Sun’s visit by studying Chinese, the country’s school system and culture, said the exchange opportunity not only benefits the district’s but also the students.

The weeks leading up to Sun’s visit, the morning announcements featured basic Chinese terms to introduce the students to the language. The students were then able to practice introducing themselves to Sun and ask him questions about what school is like in China.

“Having the exchange ... is very important for our kids,” Veleke said.

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