Tuesday, April 26, 2011

April 21

The last few days went by quickly! The schedule, arranged by Dr. Lou, was an extremely busy one. In fact so busy, that there has been little time for blogging! My days and nights have been spent observing in classrooms, speaking with many, many students and teachers, attending student performances, and meeting with education leaders.

On Tuesday morning several of the exchange program PA administrators, along with their Chinese counterparts met, once again, to spend a few hours visiting local points of interest including the beautiful and famous Zhaozhou Bridge and the Bailin Buddhist Temple.

Zhaozhou Bridge was constructed 1500 years ago during the Sui Dynasty. Dr. Lou shared that this attraction was very special to him, recalling that, as a child, his mother often told him a legend about the bridge. As the story goes, a very strong man carried five mountains across the bridge. While walking, the moon shone on him with such brightness that the man fell. A carpenter miraculously appeared from the river below and, with one hand, prevented the bridge from collapsing. It is said that the strong man's knee print can be found on top of the bridge and the carpenter's handprint can be found underneath the bridge. This bridge and Dr. Lou's story will now hold a special place in my heart!

Built during the Han Dynasty, the Bailin (Cypress) Temple is home to 160 Buddhist monks. The most impressive building is the main prayer temple. Our tour guide explained that there are more than 10,000 miniature buddhas here, most of which were purchased as donations for the temple.

Later in the afternoon I attended a wonderful impromptu traditional folk/modern music performance by a small group of Shijiazhuang Number 1 High School students. I was impressed by the talents and precise skills of the performers who rarely have the opportunity to practice.

Today will be a very busy day. My morning will be spent at a vocational school where I will see the programs available to students who do not attend high school. Later I will meet with the teachers, students, and school leaders of Shijiazhuang Number 1 High School one last time. I regret that this is my last opportunity to write to you before I leave China, however, I look forward to sharing with you my experiences and the many lessons I learned when I return home! I wish you all a wonderful holiday!

Fondly, Connie

April 18

What a Memorable Day!

From the formal flag-raising ceremony, to the candid conversations with teachers and students, as well as the warm welcome reception and dinner hosted by the Shijiazhuang No. 1 administrative team, there wasn't a moment that went by that I didn't clearly understand the importance of education to the people of China.

After being formally introduced to the entire student body and faculty as part of a flag raising ceremony, Dr. Lou proudly escorted me on a brief walking tour of the very large campus which consists of several buildings of classrooms, a laboratory, teacher apartments, and student dormitories.

I spent most of the morning with one of the English teachers, Jenny, who told me many details about Shijiazhuang No.1 High School. For example, students attend school from Monday through Saturday. Each day before school begins all students are given certain task such as mopping the floors, picking up trash, etc.  The school day officially begins at 7:30 AM and formally ends at 5:30 PM. However, on weekdays students are required to stay for night class which begins at 6:10 PM and ends at 8:30 PM. This time is used to complete homework and receive extra help from teachers. It's not unusual for students to spend four hours each evening completing assignments!! Jenny was also eager to discuss Chinese school reform efforts, lesson plan design, and discipline; all topics of great interest to me.

Eating lunch in the cafeteria with faculty and students was especially fun!! The food was delicious and the company was great! Many students stopped to greet me and to ask me questions about life and school in America. They send their regards to you and dream of coming to America one day!

Later in the afternoon, after observing an English class and interviewing all of the English teachers, I spent a delightful hour speaking with five students. They described the best teachers as kind, understanding, knowledgeable, versatile, humorous, patient, and responsible. They also voiced their concerns about college acceptance, test scores, and social situations - similar to concerns expressed by many US high school students. They wanted to know details about American education such as the length of the school day, homework, class/course options, and most importantly university requirements. I will be happy to share their thoughts with you when I return!

At the end of the day, Diana Wood, University of Pittsburgh, and I were the guests of honor at a welcome reception where a Memorandum of Understanding was signed by Tian Yunlong, Principal of Shijiazhuang No. 1 High School. This document formally recognizes the sister school relationship between Schuylkill Valley School District and Shijiazhuang No. 1 High School. This is an important event for both schools that will lead to future student and teacher exchanges.

Monday, April 18, 2011

April 17 - PM

Just like home!!!

In my home Sundays are special days. My family and friends come together to cook, eat, share stories, and make memories. It is no different than the lovely day I spent today with Dr. Lou Yanguo and his wife Meixi.

After departing the hotel and the city, we traveled by car to the countryside first to pick strawberries, then to visit Dr. Lou's mother who prepared a yummy traditional lunch of noodles with tomato sauce. Her home is the oldest in the village and its layout is very similar to the layout of the Hutong homes we visited last week. After lunch we cleaned and diced a large bunch of Chinese vegetables which we would later use as filling for dumplings.

Next we went to Dr.Lou's home where we were joined by close family and friends who worked together to make hundreds of dumplings!  First, we rolled the dough paper thin, then placed just the right amount of filling in the center of the flattened dough, and finally   pinched the edges together - ready to be boiled.  Meixi is an excellent teacher and was very patient with this American student who may not yet be proficient at dumpling making but is certainly making progress! I'm sure it's hard for you to imagine me picking strawberries and making dumplings, but its true as you will see in the pictures!

Tomorrow I will finally meet the staff and students of Shijiazhuang No.1 School. I look forward to sharing my experiences with you!


April 17 AM

Off to Shijiazhuang Number 1 High School!

In about an hour, the PA administrators will the leave the Shijiazhuang Yanshan Hotel to stay with their sister school partners. The next time we meet will be Friday, April 21 at the Zhengding Airport in Shijiazhuang. We are all excited about the next and most important leg of this journey!

I look forward to getting to know Dr. Lou and his wife Meixi. I have lots of questions for them about their families, interests, hobbies, job responsibilities, and professional experiences.

I also have lots of questions for the teachers and administrators of Shijiazhuang No.1 High School. I want to learn more about the structure of the Chinese education system, curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Topics such as class size, discipline, professional education are also topics to explore.

Most importantly I want to learn about the students!!! What are their favorite subjects? What makes a teacher a great teacher? What are their dreams and aspirations? What are their worries? What do they do in their spare time? What types of music do they enjoy? What books do they read?

So much to learn with so little time......

Friday, April 15, 2011

April 15, 2011

Today we were the students!

With the exception of lunch, we spent the entire day at the Hebei Provincial Department of Education where we heard guest lecturers from the Department and local universities provide insight on basic education policy, teacher evaluation, and recruitment of teachers and principals. Although our paths may differ, it is clear that China and the United States share the same mission of providing quality education programs for all students!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

April 14, 2011

Today we visited the Shijiazhuang Foreign Language School and the Shijiazhuang Arts School. Both specialty schools have incredible programs, dedicated teachers, and passionate students. They are two of Shijiazhuang's finest schools!  

 Shijiazhuang Foreign Language School is a large, wealthy, private K -12 school serving 10,000 students.  Tuition is expensive, about 9000 yuan ($1376) per year. Academic classes are taught in the morning and related arts classes are taught in the afternoon. Class offerings include English, Japanese, Russian, painting, music, robotics, machining, physical education and others. Students are instructed in all subject areas and receive additional training in their area of interest or talent. The school principal made it clear that the goal of this school is to promote cooperation, communication, and innovation. Research, discussion, criticism, and innovation are considered new '"learning styles" and are embraced by both students and staff. After a tour of the school, we were given the opportunity to interview teachers and administrators. Grace and Jane, both kindergarten principals, were eager to tell me about the school's kindergarten program for 3-6 year old students. They emphasized that over the past few years the preschool philosophy of this school has changed from a focus on academics to one of socialization and that this shift has impacted the learning of students in a most positive way.  I was amazed to learn that the kindergarten day begins at 8:00 AM and ends at 6:00 PM!

The Shijiazhuang Art School is a poorer, but very competitive specialty school serving about 1000 talented performing arts students. Although a public school, families pay 4600 yuan ($703) for their children to attend each year. Students of some programs are enrolled beginning at age 11 and can continue through grade 12. Entrance requirements are strict and include passing an exam as well as an audition. The school reminded me very much of a US magnet school. Specialized programs in the areas of music, dance, drama, and Beijing Opera are taught by nationally recognized master teachers. We visited many classrooms and watched long and difficult, yet incredible, practice sessions performed by students  ......  and teachers!!  Practice and determination are the keys to success in this school. It was no surprise to learn that students from the Shijiazhuang Art School performed at the 2008 Olympic Games and that some are now famous performers! Our visit ended with a magnificent full-costumed performance in the school auditorium.  As we entered the room, all of the students in the audience applauded us to show their appreciation of our visit! After the performance we were invited to join them on the stage for pictures where they applauded us a second time. This was truly a humbling experience for us!

Once again, the students of China touched this blogger's heart and left beautiful memories that will not be forgotten!

posted by Connie Skipper

April 12, 2011

Today was a busy, but incredible day! Just imagine, the Great Wall of China, the Olympic Village, a Hutong tour, and shopping at the Silk Market - all in one day!

Magnificent, regal, and breathtaking best describes our trek along the Great Wall. Although most of the Wall was built during the Ming Dynasty, construction began almost 2000 years ago during the Qin Dynasty as a means of protecting all of China from intruders. Nearly one million laborers built the wall, with 500,000 of them perishing in the process. Those who did not survive are recognized today as national heroes.

We began our journey at the Mutianyu section of the Wall where we rode a gondola to Watchtower 14, one of 23 watchtowers located along this section. Looking up from the base of Watchtower 14, it was hard to believe that the majority of us would make it to Watchtower 22 or 23. After achieving our goal it was incredibly hard to resist buying the I CLIMBED THE GREAT WALL t-shirts being sold by local vendors!

After a relaxing lunch we stopped at the Olympic Village where we were able to take pictures of the various 2008 Olympic buildings. Upon the first glimpse of Birds Nest my memory immediately went back to the grandeur and celebration of the 2008 Opening Ceremony!

Later in the afternoon we toured a protected Hutong village - on a rickshaw! Originally home to Imperial families, each Hutong consists of a small courtyard surrounded by four buildings. According to feng shui, the location of each building is very important in living a happy and harmonious life. The north or master building is the home of the grandparents and parents. The kitchen is located in the south building. The sons live in the east building and the daughters live in the west building. We thoroughly enjoyed this glimpse into the simple and practical lives of the village people.

After a delicious dinner at a local noodle house known as one of "the most famous" noodle houses in Beijing, several of us ventured downtown to the Silk Market where we truly were in bargain-shopper's paradise. Imagine - four floors of discounted clothing, artwork, silk, and jewelry! It's here that several of us learned the fine art of bargaining!

inside noodle house

noodle house
Rickshaw driver

Touring the Huntong Village in a Rickshaw!

Great Wall