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.