Looking Back On A NICE Delegation Visit From Chinese Sister School

Newtown International Center for Education (NICE) members reflected on a visit by a delegation from Liaocheng, China, from January 24 to February 2, with The Bee this week.

“It was incredible,” said Lisa Berger, president of the NICE Parent Community Organization (NICE PCO), on February 2, the day after delegates left to return to China.

Ms Berger said she was still overwhelmed by the excitement of the delegates’ stay. The delegation included 29 students and 11 adults, administrators, and educators from China, according to Ms Berger. About 30 host families offered up their homes for the delegates to stay in during the visit.

The NICE program, Ms Berger said, attempts to bring international learning to as many people as possible, and the visit, she continued, achieved this by bringing many people together.

Following the delegation’s arrival on January 24, Ms Berger said a number of activities were held and attended, including a welcoming ceremony at different schools in the district, visits to area attractions, and a farewell ceremony at Reed Intermediate School.

The delegation’s visit also coincided with the celebration of the Chinese New Year, and, Ms Berger said, a number of host families got to experience celebrating traditions with their delegates.

Alpana Dholakia, whose family welcomed one delegate during the visit, said her family was one of the families that celebrated the Chinese New Year. One of her neighbors was also hosting a delegate, and the families joined together to eat dumplings in honor of the event. Making the dumplings, which the student delegates completed, was a four-hour process, according to Ms Dholakia.

Ms Dholakia said her high school aged daughter bonded with the delegate, and the girls went on day trips with their neighbor, who is a friend of Ms Dholakia’s daughter, and the delegate staying with the neighbor. The girls visited local places like Starbucks and Everything Newtown, and had two outings to the Danbury Fair Mall.

Ms Dholakia, who is from India, said it was wonderful to share aspects of cultures with the delegates, adding, “It was a great positive experience.”

While Ms Dholakia said she felt the visit was short, she also said the delegates felt like part of her family by the end of the visit. She also encouraged others to offer their homes to host delegates through NICE in the future.

Tim DeJulio, who oversees NICE’s program development, is its Asia Project manager, its Liaocheng Study Tour leader, and its NICE club co-advisor, said this year’s visit was a great success.

“There were several highlights from this week,” Mr DeJulio said. “Liaocheng School students were able to spend three days shadowing students through their school days in the high school, middle school, and Reed Intermediate [School]. Liaocheng educators and administrators over the week were able to shadow students, teachers, and administrators. This allowed them to experience a normal school day from three different perspectives.”

Mr DeJulio also said delegates met with school district educators, Interim Superintendent of Schools John Reed, and First Selectman Pat Llodra during a reception held at the Dana Holcombe House.

“This week was another step forward toward promoting and sharing educational practices along with cultural education,” Mr DeJulio said. “The most significant highlight was seeing the Chinese delegates and the Americans truly embrace each other’s cultures and seeing the beginnings of lasting friendships.”

Visits like this latest one, according to Mr DeJulio, expose students, educators, and community members to the NICE program, and “the more people who know about the program and the benefits it brings to the school and town, the better it is for the future of the program.”

“NICE,” Mr DeJulio continued later, “brings the world to Newtown.”

NICE will host a delegation from Spain in the spring, and Newtown delegations are set to visit France, Spain, and China in April, according to Mr DeJulio.

“We are continuing to expand our program and have had more student participants than any other year,” said Mr DeJulio. “The NICE program continues to excel because of the work and commitment of a large number of people, and can only become stronger with continued school, community, administrative and [Board of Education] support.”

Ms Berger explained that NICE is a district program that is funded by grants and donations from individuals and businesses.

“It is a unique program that Newtown has and I am very proud to have this in our community,” said Ms Berger. Adding later, “It just keeps getting better.”

NICE recently went under the direction of an Executive Council comprising Caroline Barron, Ms Berger, Jennifer Davidson, Mr DeJulio, Cara Fedak, Paula Greenfield, Katherine Matz and Elizabeth Ward.

According to Mr DeJulio, NICE welcomes suggestions from the community on ways to enhance its current sister school programs as well as other international learning opportunities and expand its role in the Newtown Public Schools and communities at large.

Ms Berger said one hope she has for NICE’s future is to see it expand to the elementary level.

Mr DeJulio also noted, “[NICE] is interested in identifying third-party funding sources to create a self-sustaining program available to as wide a range of students as possible.”

To contact the NICE Executive Council for more information, e-mail nice@newtown.k12.ct.us.

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