The Board of Education passed a resolution in early October to enter into a sister school agreement with Fuyang Yongxing Schools in China.
Board president Ellen Lindgren, Superintendent Don Johnson, MHS principal Denise Herrmann and MHS Chinese teacher Piyanut Sripanawongsa visited the Fuyang schools and China for a little more than a week in late September and early October.
"We had a fantastic time in China,'' said Lindgren, who pointed out they were there while the school was celebrating its 70th anniversary. “The trip was quite eye-opening.’’
Pengfei Ye, the vice principal at Fuyang High School and the director of the Advanced Placement program at the school, attended the Oct. 10 Board meeting along with his niece and an educator from Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Conversations between the school districts begin in early June. Some of the outcomes the districts hope result from the agreement include:
* Planning exchange visits for students, teachers and administrators to China and the United States. Student exchanges would be for 10-20 days; teacher and administrator exchanges would be for 1-2 weeks; and student academic exchanges would be for a semester or a school year.
* Extension and improvement of world language instruction, specifically Chinese at MHS and English at Fuyang High School.
* Electronic communications and collaboration between students and staff.
“Through such collaborative activities, students will gain knowledge and compassion that can lead them to be action-oriented, global citizens who can effect change and possibly help resolve some of the global issues that exist,’’ Herrmann said. Students can be empowered to help remedy problems. Our students can make a difference, and global education can support them on their journey.’’
Fuyang High School is located in southeast China, in the province of Zhejiang and in the city of Fuyang. It is the biggest high school with approximately 4,000 students.
Herrmann, Johnson and Lindgren spent three full days in China speaking with teachers, students, administrators, alumni and community members about the strengths and areas for improvement in the Chinese educational system. They also observed classes at many of the schools.
Children from first grade through high school sleep in dorms at Fuyang, Lindgren said. Lindgren added a typical high school student is up at 5:30 a.m. and is in class, exercising or studying until 9:30 p.m. Herrmann said she was surprised to find out more than 90 percent of the 3,000 students who attend grades 1-6 stay overnight Monday through Thursday.
“For many years we have embraced the concept that ‘Our World is Shrinking’ ”, Johnson said. “As a school district, and as individuals, we also acknowledge that ‘Our Horizons are Expanding.’ The recent educational exchange of leadership from MCPASD to Fuyang, China is clearly an example of both of these realities. We recognize that we must be engaged with people around the world.’’
Johnson called the trip a scouting mission to determine what steps can be taken to connect our schools with those in Fuyang.
“The mutual benefits are that we are able to both cooperate and compete more effectively in a global context,’’ he said.
Johnson hopes more long-term student exchanges will result from the agreement. Fuyang High School officials have also expressed interest in having some of MHS’s Advanced Placement teachers to work there. He also expects to see teacher and principal exchanges
“There are also options for electronic communications as e-mail pals, Facebook-like connections, and real-time Skype engagements become possible to shrink the many miles and oceans that lie between us,’’ he said.
“We cannot pretend to understand others without a personal connection and the ability to learn about them directly,’’ he said. “Building friendships is the foundation for a more vibrant and holistic understanding of others around the world.’’
Sripanawongsa, who is in her second year teaching Mandarin-Chinese at MHS, went along as an interpreter for the MCPASD delegation.
She was impressed with the quality of education and facilities at Fuyang High School and how much the school wants to learn about education in the United States. She also pointed out that the school’s staff consists of professionals from all over the world, including teachers from Minnesota.
She has already heard from several parents asking when they can send their children to China.
“I think we are very fortunate to have such a great opportunity,’’ she said. “There is no question that by doing this exchange, our students, staff, and community will also benefit from this partnership. Our students and staff will gain valuable life experiences.’’
Lindgren also had great things to say about the city.
“Fuyang will be a wonderful place for our students and staff to visit,’’ she said. “It's safe, clean, and beautiful. For our students and staff to see the similarities and differences in education and the amazing culture will be a broadening experience for them. The area has much to offer for exploring, and I hope many will take advantage of whatever exchanges we can develop over the next few years.’’
"All of us felt very comfortable moving around there,'' Lindgren added. "I was really excited thinking about our students having an opportunity to get a broader global view. They will be in great hands when they go over to visit. ... We really look forward to nourishing this relationship.''