“This spans bigger than Westerly High School,” junior Ryan Algiere said. “We have a responsibility to represent our country as an example of American education.”
The teachers, who all teach English at the high school and college level in China, are part of a professional development exchange program designed at the U.S.-China Institute and Confucius Institute at Bryant University.
The main purpose of their two-month visit to the United States — they will spend three weeks at WHS and the rest of the time at Bryant — is for the teachers to learn more about student-centered instruction, the teaching of literature and American culture.
Their trip is fully funded by their home schools and province, and they will live with host families during their stay in Westerly. They will also take part in after-school activities and attend the School Committee meeting on March 5.
“They’re going to see the innovation and creativity that comes from our students,” WHS Principal Steven Ruscito said. “It’s the students’ experience. We want them to get into the students’ world and walk in their shoes.”
Mere minutes after walking through the doors at WHS, it was the students who ran the program of events.
Students gave a presentation on the history of the town, its beaches and high school, and also walked their guests through what WHS has to offer academically.
Band members and chorus members performed, and Chef Jamie Finkelstein and the culinary arts students provided lunch. Later, junior and senior class officers conducted tours of the school.
“The students are high-performing, and it’s very refreshing,” Daming Zhou, one of the five Chinese teachers, said. “We will learn from the American students. They are so confident. It’s very impressive.”
During their time at the high school, they will be paired with WHS teachers, observe classes and exchange education views and practices.
“We are going to learn teaching styles, teaching methodologies, the American cultures,” Xiaoling Lin, a Chinese teacher, said. “Wow, it’s been impressive. All the students here are great, very nice, very sweet.”
Ruscito said that although the teachers will spend time in every department at the school, they will primarily stay in the English department, and have the “opportunity to witness how we teach.”
“We’re carrying that torch for the entire nation,” Ruscito said. “The students are ready to take on this big responsibility. I’m thrilled.”
This program is the first major China education exchange that the Westerly Public Schools has embarked on since the establishment of a Confucius Classroom in the fall of 2013 at Tower Street Community Center.
Tower Street’s classroom is one of nine K-12 Confucius Classrooms that the Bryant program has established in southern New England.
“The relationship with Westerly started with the establishment of the Confucius Classroom,” said Kongli Liu, associate director for academic programs for the U.S.-China Institute at Bryant University. “And Westerly High School has established itself as a school that wants to drive global education and diversity.”
First and foremost on Tuesday, the teachers were introduced to a Bulldog staple — a bowl of the culinary department’s award-winning seafood chowder.
“It’s great,” teacher Xiaoning Liu said. “Every bite is beautiful.”