Chariho High School to host its first Chinese exchange student

Chariho High School to host its first Chinese exchange student

The Westerly Sun

WOOD RIVER JCT. — An early summer trip to China by Chariho Principal Craig MacKenzie has resulted in the district welcoming its first Chinese exchange student. A high-achieving school in the city of Yangzhou was interested in developing an ongoing student-exchange relationship with the Chariho district, and MacKenzie was chosen to go to China to meet with school officials.

“It happened pretty quickly,” he said. The school has an F1 student visa certification, which allows it to host exchange students, MacKenzie said, “and they can actually receive a diploma at Chariho. We were looking for agencies that could support making that happen.”

At the invitation of Boston Global, an agency that helps Chinese students study in the United States, MacKenzie spent a week in China at the end of June. The initial discussions were facilitated by Ann Shin, a Chinese national who works at St. John’s High School in Shrewsbury, Mass.

“She is from the area, Yangzhou, and had worked for the principal that I ended up connecting with on the trip,” MacKenzie explained.

When school ended for the summer, MacKenzie flew to Shanghai, met with Shin and traveled four hours west to the city of Yangzhou. He met with representatives from two high schools, including Jiangdu, a school of approximately 4,000 students that has received the highest rating, four stars, from the Chinese government.

Jiangdu’s principal, Dr. Minglong Zhou, told MacKenzie that he wanted to create an international program at his school that would make it possible for students planning to attend universities in the United States to do their final year of high school there.

“The American school would facilitate their transition to American postsecondary institutions,” MacKenzie said.

College admission requirements are rigorous in China, and students work hard throughout the year to attain the best grades. Even during summer vacation, Jiangdu students have two hours of homework every night, and MacKenzie said that when he visited, the classrooms were full of students doing supplemental schoolwork. Those students, many of whom planned to attend universities in the United States, would be competing with Americans for college admission.

“We were there on the first two days of summer vacation, 85 degrees in the classroom, and kids are off, they’re not in school, but the two classrooms we visited were full of kids working on robotics, circuit-building, enrichment types of things that they needed to do to set themselves apart from the competition in China,” MacKenzie said. “In seeing these students doing what they can to separate themselves, it reinforced to me the importance of my travel, because I can come back to our students and help them to understand that those kids are in direct competition with them for acceptance to postsecondary opportunities, scholarships, membership in organizations, and, ultimately, job opportunities.”

The 16-year-old Chinese student, whose name has not yet been released, will arrive on Aug. 21 and stay with a family in one of the three Chariho towns. Tracy Haines-Mayne, who directs the school guidance department, will be her counselor.

Chariho Superintendent Barry Ricci said the exchange program, while still in its infancy, shows great promise.

“Principal MacKenzie’s trip to China laid the foundation for a great school-to-school partnership,” he said.

“In the future, there may be opportunities for our students to travel to China,” Ricci added. “What a great way for our students to come to understand other cultures.”

MacKenzie said the exchange would help Chinese students bound for American universities make the cultural transition by completing high school at Chariho, and students in the Chariho district would also benefit from the program.

“Our school community is going to benefit from an infusion of students from another culture,” he said. “We’re not the most culturally diverse school. But we are working and living in a global community. We know that. The 1:1 initiative alone creates that opportunity for our kids. I want them to see the work ethic that defines the Chinese student and understand that that’s the competition.” (1:1 refers to the district’s laptop computer program.)

In return, MacKenzie said, the Chinese students would broaden their interests beyond academics. They would benefit, he said, “by being part of our school community in terms of their developing well-roundedness. They understand that yes, academics are important, but the whole student, who you are socially, your ability to actively participate in your school community, those are experiences we can provide these Chinese students.”

Chariho is also exploring the possibility of sending a student to study in China. Chinese students usually speak English with an impressive degree of fluency, but because Chariho students do not speak Mandarin, the exchange might first take the form of a shorter period of cultural immersion in which the American student would live with a Chinese family.

MacKenzie was in China for just a few days, but he said he was impressed with the hospitality and the intensive economic development taking place.

“The development in China, and in Yangzhou in particular, was staggering,” he said. “Buildings going up, high-rises going up everywhere ... I guess the other thing that struck me, and I’ll say this about Dr. Zhou, the principal of Jiangdu, who I really feel kindred to: His school is incredibly successful, but he understands that there’s limits to the experiences he can provide his students, and he was willing to look to us to create more opportunities for his kids.”



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