By Jillian Snoznik
NEW KENSINGTON, Pa. – Seventeen students and eight adults from Valley High School traveled to Beijing and Jilin City, China for the second time as a part of an educational exchange program on Nov. 4, 2009.
The eight day visit to China was part of a partnership between the New Kensington-Arnold School District and the Jilin Number One High School, one of that region’s largest and most competitive educational systems. Valley High School returned from the trip late on Friday, Nov. 13.
Along with visits of students and educators between the two school districts, the partnership also involves expanding educational ideas through technology. With the recent advancements in technology, New Kensington-Arnold hopes to continue to promote global exchanges so students can have the opportunity to compete in a technology driven society.
“There was a very lengthy application process. We had to fill out an application and write an essay about what we would be able to take out of the experience,” said Valley senior, David Seymour. “The last step was an interview with teachers and administrators.”
David Seymour made this trip for the first time. Last spring, his family hosted a student from China who was visiting Valley High School.
“The experience of traveling to China was extraordinary. I learned so much about another country and so much about myself,” said Seymour.
These exchanges with China have been going on for about two and a half years. The major players in this collaboration involve the teachers and students in the New Kensington-Arnold School District, as well as Jilin Number One High School.
“This trip has been a great success,” said Dr. George Batterson, the superintendent of Valley High School. “We were hoping to set forth an agreement with the Chinese school district, and everything is falling into place the way we wanted.”
What the two schools plan to do is offer online courses to each other. In order to make this agreement possible, many of Valley’s teachers are being trained to teach online courses.
With Valley High School as one of the leading districts of technology in Pennsylvania, there would be no better way to expand their horizons.
This trip wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for a competitive grant provided by the Grabel Foundations. In all, the cost of the trip was $2,000 per person. This year Valley High School was able to receive $21,000 from the foundation, according to Batterson.
“After the grant went through, the students and teachers had to come up with $1,000 to pay for the trip,” said Eileen Matyas, a foreign language teacher who went on the trip.
Students and teachers held numerous fundraisers to help in the trip’s expenses. A lot of the students sold candy, candles, hoagies, and donuts at the school in the morning. They also did fundraising outside of school such as tagging at local shopping centers and held car washes.
During the eight day stay in China, students were able to attend and participate in various classes. Some of the classes involved a physics class, a mathematics class, and two English classes. According to Seymour, they were able to participate in labs and help read with the Chinese students.
“We also learned how to do Chinese art, paper cut, and calligraphy,” said Seymour.
The trip to China didn’t just involve Valley students interacting and exchanging educational ideas with Chinese students. Valley students and teachers were able to travel around Beijing and Jilin City to see what the area had to offer.
According to a lot of the teachers and students, this trip to China went more smoothly. The majority of the teachers and students were going on the trip for the second time.
The students who had traveled in 2008 were better able to help prepare the students going for the first time because they knew what to expect. This was true with the air and train travel, the school visitation experiences, and the Chinese culture and cuisine.
For those who traveled in 2008, there were only a few changes made to the itinerary. Overall the sightseeing was similar to the previous trip to China.
“Still, you cannot put into words what it feels like to be on the Great Wall of China…regardless of how many times you are there,” said Matyas. “It truly takes your breath away.”
The students and teachers visited the same places except on one day, when the people who went twice were able to visit a Tibetan Temple and Beihei Park. The other students visited the Temple of Heaven and the Forbidden City. This year the trip was cut shorter than last year. It went from ten days to eight.
Valley senior Megan Jordan traveled on the trip as well for the second time this past November. Last spring, her family hosted a Chinese student named Fiona when they came to visit Valley High School.
“Although this year’s trip was cut two days shorter, there was so much running around,” said Jordan. “We went from extremely early in the morning until very late at night.”
During her visit to China, she was able to meet up with Fiona as well as other students she met on her first trip.
Students and teachers paired up and lived with Chinese families during their 8-day stay in China.
“Everyone was extremely welcoming and hospitable,” said Seymour. “They were very nice to us and wanted us to feel as welcome as possible.”
The typical school day for a high school student (grades 10-12) is from 7:30 a.m. until 9:30 p.m. Students are extremely focused, with very little distractions. All extra curriculars are done of the students’ own time and do not interfere with their daily time in school.
According to Batterson, Jilin City has a population 4.5 million. Their culture and school days are much different from the New Kensington-Arnold School District’s. Jilin Number One High School has more than 5,000 students with the class size averaging about 60 students with one teacher. The 12-hour school day includes two meals and a nap break.
High school in China is not mandatory, they have to keep grades to get in, and they are very competitive with each other. The kids don’t have much of a social life either because they are too busy studying.
Most of the people in China live in tall apartment buildings rather than houses. There are no school buses, so they get to and from school by their parents, taxi, or walking.
They eat the same kind of food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The kids only eat one meal at home, which is breakfast. Lunch and dinner are eaten at school. They don’t eat that many sweets, and for dessert, they serve fruit.
In addition to the trip, Batterson and Shannon Wagner, the superintendent of Burrell School District, have met briefly with Kevin Snider, chancellor of the Penn State New Kensington campus, about signing an agreement to offer college credit courses to Chinese students.
“Both of us plan to meet with Dr. Snider sometime next week to discuss the agreement more in depth,” said Batterson.
In the upcoming year, China plans to bring a large delegation to visit the New Kensington-Arnold School District. This large delegation will involve 40 students and teachers from Jilin Number One High School. During this visit, the two school districts will discuss the agreement Batterson hopes to put into action.