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Administrators' Trip To China Aims To Expand Cultural Horizons For Newtown Students



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Administrators’ Trip To China Aims To Expand Cultural Horizons For Newtown Students

By Eliza Hallabeck

Just a few days back from a trip to Shanghai, China, with Newtown High School Principal Charles Dumais and Superintendent of Schools Janet Robinson, NHS Assistant Principal and Newtown International Center for Education (NICE) coordinator Jason Hiruo reflected on the trip and other upcoming NICE initiatives.

According to Mr Hiruo, the trip to Shanghai, which lasted from the end of November through early December, had its start last April, when NHS received an “invitation from the Shanghai Experimental Schools to participate in a professional relationship to enhance the global program of both Newtown and Shanghai schools.”

Then in September administrators from Shanghai took a detour during studies at Towson State University Confucius Institute in Maryland to visit Newtown High School, according to Mr Hiruo.

The visit to Shanghai had the three Newtown administrators meeting with principals, observing lessons, and attending meetings to formalize a relationship between Newtown and the Shanghai Jincai Experimental Schools, Mr Hiruo said.

In an e-mail this week he explained, “The Jincai schools in the Shanghai network are termed ‘experimental’ because they have programs that reach beyond the traditional nationalized program in other Chinese schools. The Shanghai Experimental Schools are implementing many common American practices to find a balance between strong fundamental skill development and creativity, self-expression, and innovation. Among them are reduced class sizes (36 versus 60), elective courses (the arts, music, technology, science, and other broadening content electives), and collaborative learning environments (desks that are not rigidly arranged in rows, student groups, collaborative classroom models).”

The schools are already in educational relationships with schools in France, England, Japan, and more, Mr Hiruo said.

“It is our hope that our relationship with them will help our students to critically examine their own values and attitudes; appreciate the similarities and differences that exist between people; develop skills that will enable them to fight social injustice, prejudice, and discrimination; and understand the global context of their local lives,” said Mr Hiruo.

NICE, according to Mr Hiruo, is supported by an annual grant through the Hanban-Confucius Classroom Network and the College Board. Mr Hiruo also said the current trip to China was also funded through a grant from the Hanban-Confucius Classroom Network, and all extra expenses were covered personally.

Following a visit by a delegation last school year, Mr Hiruo said the Sandy Hook School teachers asked how the school could further provide students with a connection to the world.

“That is when the morning Mandarin program took place,” said Mr Hiruo, speaking about a before-school program run by volunteers.

As a result of the Shanghai trip, Mr Hiruo said in-school programs will now become available to the Sandy Hook School community.

“We’re literally creating a cookbook,” said Mr Hiruo, “for a resource for teachers if they want to use it.”

The “cookbook” will include example lessons that can be shared with all elementary teachers, if interested, he said. The lessons, he said, would complement the current curricula.

“Because of our recognition by Asia Society, Japan Society, Yale University, [the University of Connecticut], and the list continues to grow, they just continue to send us resources,” said Mr Hiruo, adding those resources could be used to develop more “cookbooks” in the future.

Community Support

Since the NICE initiative, initially the Newtown China Initiative, began roughly three years ago, community support both in and out of the high school has grown.

Through word of mouth, Mr Hiruo said close to 100 families offered their homes to a group of delegates scheduled to visit Newtown next month from Liaocheng, in the Shandong province of China. Among the delegation, 30 students are scheduled to visit the school district, with some visiting NHS, some visiting Newtown Middle School, and some visiting Reed Intermediate School.

“That tells me that all these families are really recognizing what a beneficial experience to their family this could be by hosting someone from another culture,” Mr Hiruo said.

The growing support has created the new challenge, he said, of including each of the community members who expressed interest in supporting the program.

One upcoming event, a Chinese New Year’s celebration scheduled for February 4 at NHS, will be open to community members who wish to attend. Last year’s Chinese New Year’s celebration at NHS had roughly 600 people attend, according to Mr Hiruo.

“We think that this year will be even bigger,” he said, “because more people are really interested in just the fact that we are bringing more of the world to Newtown.”

Other recent NICE events have included guest lectures from the Japan Society during and after school, field trips for students, and a Japanese Film Festival, which had its first showing scheduled for this Thursday, December 15. Other monthly showings will be provided monthly and announced on NICE’s website, located off the district’s main website, www.newtown.k12.ct.us.

“I think that we’ve reached a point where it’s not just a sister school exchange program,” said Mr Hiruo. “We are trying, in an attempt to offer more opportunities to students, we’re finding that we can build more opportunities into the district for all students.”

The Connecticut Department of Education developed the Connecticut Shandong Sister-School partnership, which prompted every school district in the state to seek a partnership with a school in the Shandong province of China, Mr Hiruo said.

“We’d like to, through the World Language Department, start looking at other languages as well,” said Mr Hiruo, “and it’s not that we want to detract from the current languages, but I think that as the world grows, the priority languages and the need for our students to know them may be very clear to us in the near future.”

For Mr Hiruo, the recent trip to China showed him that halfway across the world educators want to create globally aware citizens, too.

“I think that we’re really heading in the right direction. And I think that we are not only heading in the right direction, but we are going to lead the pack,” said Mr Hiruo.

Other NICE initiatives that are currently new or in-the-works include a parent group and a student-run Facebook page.

Notices of future NICE programs will be announced on NICE’s website, according to Mr Hiruo.

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