The China-Polk connection

Published 1:30 pm Friday, August 20, 2010

Some Polk County students will have the opportunity over the next few years to experience language on a whole new level.

Fang Lei, a teacher from China, recently arrived in Polk County. She will teach Mandarin Chinese and cultural classes at Polk Middle&bsp; School this year.

Fang Lei joined Polk County Schools Superintendent Bill Miller and IT director Dave Scherping last week in a program at the Polk County Library, welcoming Fang Lei and describing the differences between China and American culture and schools. Miller and Scherping visited China last December as part of a program to exchange students and teachers.

Exchange programs

Polk County Schools is involved with two programs through the state where the China exchange has been made available. Miller says the Chinese government is working hard to expand understanding of Chinese culture and language across the world.

This year, North Carolina is the first state in the nation to bring 12 Chinese teachers at a time to schools. Five of those teachers were placed in Western North Carolina. Fang Lei and other teachers from China arrived a couple of weeks ago in Raleigh.

Fang Lei will teach some students at the middle school Mandarin Chinese and others about Chinese culture with a little bit of language. Miller says the school will also offer a video for students to send to a Chinese school and vice versa.

Once students get to high school, they can take Chinese over the Internet. Miller said last year some students at the virtual early college took Chinese and Arabic, which was difficult with no background. He said the thought is if the students are exposed to Chinese in middle school, learning the language in high school will be easier for students.

Fang Lei has the opportunity to stay in Polk County for three years. If she chooses to leave after a year or two, China will send another teacher to Polk County.

Polk County will have the opportunity to send others back to China for visits. In February, Polk County will be hosting three teachers and 10 students from China who will stay in Polk County for three weeks.

An audience member asked Miller at the presentation last week how we could send a teacher to China when our teachers do not speak Chinese. Miller responded that it wouldnt be a problem, because students in China speak English very well.

Fang Lei is currently staying with Dave and Carlann Scherping and will later stay in an apartment.

Fang Lei said she took tests and interviews in order to be accepted into the program, then spent a month in Beijing for orientation before coming to Los Angeles, Calif. There she participated in another orientation and then came to North Carolina.

“It has been an amazing trip and Im so happy to be here, she says.

China trip highlights

During their trip to China last December, Scherping and Miller visited schools. They&bsp; spent much of their time in Beijing.

They both mentioned their amazement with the size of the city, buildings and population and how Fang Lei will have to adjust to what we know as a small town.

Miller and Scherping visited one small town in China, which has a population of six million people. Miller mentioned the differences in Chinese students language skills and those of American students.

The students in Chinas language skills are scary compared to ours, Miller said.

He said while traveling back from Raleigh with Fang Lei he told her the school would plan a get-together for her to meet the staff. Miller said he mentioned that everyone would bring a dish for the event.

And she said, Oh, you mean a potluck, Miller said. “Thats how good her English is.”

Miller said one difference between the United States and China is the huge housing boom China is experiencing right now. Everywhere they looked, he said, construction was going on, with common views of old China versus new China.

Miller also said they stayed in the nicest accommodations, with the government putting school representatives in the same hotel where the Olympic planning committee stayed during the Olympics.

Scherping said he found lots of aspects interesting in China, incuding the wide use of bicycles for transportation and recreation areas for residents. Basically, Scherping emphasized that Chinese people have the same wants and needs as Americans, and the children are the same. He took pictures of businesses such as bakeries and magazine stands that illustrate ways in which China is similar to America.

The group visited a smaller city with a lake and saw pearl fishing and also visited the Great Wall of China.

Miller and Scherping both discussed the incredible academic achievements of Chinese students, saying that one school they visited had an average SAT score of 2224. Chinese students take the same SAT as American students do to enter American colleges, with the test in China also being in English.

Schools in China are different in that students take a test in the eighth grade and the top 10 percent of the class go to high school together. The system is tiered in that the best students go to the best schools together and so on.

Another interesting aspect about Chinese schools is there is no heating or air conditioning. Scherping pointed out to the audience last week that the students in a photo of a Chinese class were all wearing glasses and all wearing coats. Scherping said Chinese schools are funded solely based on academics. Miller added he doesnt know how parents in Polk County would react if the air conditioning in Polk County Schools was not working.

An audience member asked Fang Lei how teachers discipline in China. Fang Lei answered that discipline problems dont really exist in China. The population is so large and the competition so great, students would not misbehave there, she said. Miller said that will be another point of adjustment for Fang Lei as she begins teaching in an American school.

Students in China also attend school for longer days and more days in a year. Miller said he thinks Chinese students attend school 220 days of the year compared to U.S. schools at 180 days. Most Chinese schools also go from around 8 a.m. until 5 or 5:30 p.m. Fang Lei said they do take a two-hour break during the day, with most breaks including a nap.

Miller said the Chinese government and all the principals they met said they were very interested in Americas way of teaching creativity.

They feel like we create inventors and they create&bsp; producers, Miller said. They want to tap into that just like we want to tap into their math scores and language skills.