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NHS PTSA Hears Information About Newtown's China Initiative



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NHS PTSA Hears Information About

Newtown’s China Initiative

By Eliza Hallabeck

Both First Selectman Pat Llodra and Newtown High School Assistant Principal Jason Hiruo discussed Newtown’s growing China Initiative in NHS’s new addition with members of the high school’s PTSA on Monday, January 10.

Students in school now, Mrs Llodra told the assembled PTSA members, need to be curious, motivated, and have the skill to collaborate with different cultures. Newtown’s China Initiative, she said, provides students with adults and teachers modeling the attributes that will be required of the still-growing future leaders.

“It’s really incredible; the leaps and bounds we have taken in three years,” said Mr Hiruo. Without support from the community and from leaders like Mrs Llodra and Superintendent of Schools Janet Robinson, Mr Hiruo said, the effort would not have grown as much.

Mr Hiruo also gave the PTSA members a brief history of the China Initiative during the meeting.

The relationship began after Dr Robinson took a trip to Liaocheng in November 2007, just a few months before she began her position as superintendent of schools in Newtown. The relationship with Liaocheng, in the Shandong Province of China, continued when social studies teacher Martha Parvis and Mr Hiruo made the first trip to Liaocheng as representatives of NHS that following spring.

Since the spring of 2007, the China initiative has grown to include a Mandarin language program at the high school taught by exchange teacher Ding Hong, and more recently, a fifth grade through twelfth grade Mandarin program. Sandy Hook School, Mr Hiruo explained, just began a pilot program with a parent volunteer overseeing the effort. Hopefully, Mr Hiruo said, the Mandarin 3 level course will be offered at the high school for next school year.

“We will get to the point where Reed and the middle school will begin to look at their own Mandarin programs,” said Mr Hiruo.

Mrs Llodra compared this to the fact that when she graduated in 1960, her high school offered Spanish only in the senior year of high school.

Since the China Initiative program began, Mr Hiruo said there has been community support for it. This year, he said, roughly 60 families volunteered to host the 41 delegates scheduled to visit from Liaocheng in February.

Since October, NHS teachers and students have been preparing for their own scheduled trip to Liaocheng in April. Preparations for the group include learning Mandarin from Mr Ding, learning proper etiquette, and learning how to function safely as a group traveling abroad. The group meets roughly two to three times a month, according to Mr Hiruo.

“So that when we get there, there are no concerns,” he said.

The cost of traveling in April will be $2,750 per person, and everyone going is funding their own way. Mr Hiruo said the trip is at a discounted rate. PTSA members voiced concern for students who may not be able to travel due to the costs associated, and Mr Hiruo said funding options are being looked into for the future.

Right now, he said, the Newtown China Initiative is being primarily funded through the Hanban-Asia Society. The China Initiative was recognized in November for its potential as a model Chinese language program for the nation, when Newtown High School and the Newtown School District was accepted as a member of the cohort of schools in the Hanban-Asia Society Confucius Classrooms Network. The network represents more than 15,000 students in 23 states and the District of Columbia: public schools, independent schools, and charter schools; elementary, middle, and high schools; and urban, rural, and suburban schools.

The partnership is successful on many levels, Mr Hiruo said, and offers advantages to both Newtown and Liaocheng.

“In wanting what we have,” said Mr Hiruo, “they place what we have on a pedestal.”

While students in China may outpace students in the United States in math and science testing, he also said, “We instill in our children problem solving, creative thinking, and critical thinking.”

During the visiting delegates’ stay in February, as Mr Hiruo said at the Monday meeting, the school expects to host a Chinese New Year celebration open to the public. And a partnership with universities in Japan may be in the future for the town, he said.

“It seems like such a long time ago since I first went to China,” he said. “It’s only been three years, and we’ve accomplished a lot.”

The Newtown China Initiative now has an eight-member team at the high school working to oversee different aspects of the effort, he said.

After hearing from Mrs Llodra and Mr Hiruo ,the NHS PTSA continued on to its regular business.

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