WOOD RIVER JCT. — Chariho High School has reached a preliminary agreement with No.1 High School of Liuyang, China to develop a sister school relationship that would involve student and teacher exchanges between the two schools. Located in Hunan province, Liuyang is a city of 1.4 million people.
A two-page letter of agreement, signed by Chariho Principal Craig MacKenzie and No.1 High School Principal Yuan Zhangjun, will be submitted to the School Committee for approval. The letter explains the goals of the proposed program and the different areas of collaboration.
“Our administration, our teachers and our students understand and believe that collaboration between our schools, despite our geographical distance and cultural differences, is essential to enriching the learning experiences in our schools and improving the opportunities for our students to succeed as they move from high school to university and to the world of work,” the agreement states. “We are committed to graduating students with choices, armed with the skills, knowledge and habits of mind essential to success in an increasingly competitive global society.”
The two schools have agreed to develop an ongoing relationship which will make it possible for them to experience and understand each other’s teaching and learning methods.
They will also establish an exchange program that would involve 15 to 20 students from each school every year or every two years. Both schools agreed to work with their respective local and national governments to raise funds for the sister school program.
It is not clear whether the proposed exchange program would fall under a regulation, recently introduced by former Rhode Island Education Commissioner Ken Wagner, that prohibits school districts from charging fees for field trips.
Superintendent of Schools Barry Ricci said he would recommend that the School Committee exclude exchange programs from the field trip designation.
“I will be recommending a change to the field trip policy to exclude consideration of student exchange programs as field trips,” he said.
MacKenzie said the idea of establishing a relationship with the Chinese high school began to take shape when Wang Ling, a teacher at the school, spent last year teaching in Chariho’s global languages program.
“Wang Ling taught Mandarine at Chariho last year, and related that her school, No. 1 High School of Liuyang, had established sister school relationships with a school in North Carolina and on the Isle of Mann in Great Britain,” he said. “She asked if we were interested and given our commitment to building a Mandarine program and the district’s strategic plan goal of fostering global opportunities for our students, I Skyped with her Principal, Mr. Yuan Zhangjun in the spring and left the meeting convinced that we shared a vision of creating meaningful cultural experiences for our students.”
Yuan invited MacKenzie to visit his school and MacKenzie accepted, leaving for China on June 26 and returning on July 7. The trip was funded by a $1,500 grant from the Community 2000 Education Foundation.
“We wanted to solidify our relationship through direct contact and I wanted to understand the systems that translate into success in their school,” MacKenzie said.
Wang, who has since returned to China, said the visiting Chariho students would learn how hard their Chinese counterparts, who live at their school and return home for visits, are expected to work.
“Chinese students wake up at 6 a.m., exercise, then read for a half hour, eat breakfast, then work on their campus responsibility,” she said. “They go to five classes in the morning, take a break until 2:20, then go to classes until 5, have dinner, then have independent study time with teachers and tutors until 9:40.”
On the other hand, Wang said she hoped the Chinese students would develop the self-confidence she witnessed in the Chariho students.
“Chinese students can learn from the self-expression and confidence that so many American students display,” she said.
Once the sister school agreement receives final approval from the School Committee, Ricci said fundraising would begin. He also noted that the program fits well in the district’s strategic plan, known as Vision 2023.
“This initiative moves us closer to our Vision 2023 goal related to global citizenship," he said. "I'm confident we can make it happen. I applaud the initiative of Principal MacKenzie to expand opportunities for our students.”