Chinese students warmly welcomed at Unionville

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Visiting from Beijing, students will shadow local students, live with families to learn about life in America

By Mike McGann, Editor, UnionvilleTimes.com

The 23 visiting students, their teachers and their host students at Unionville pose for a group shot just before starting classes at the high school, Tuesday.

EAST MARLBOROUGH — They sat politely and seemed just to drink it all in — not surprisingly, as so much was new and different.

23 students from the Experimental High School Attached to Beijing Normal University sat in the cafeteria at Unionville High School Tuesday morning, maybe just slightly overwhelmed. As if a 17-hour flight from China and the culture shock weren’t enough — Tuesday’s icy weather delayed proceedings and gave the students a good look at something they’re a little less accustomed to seeing at home: nearly a foot of snow on the ground.

Unionville Superintendent of Schools Sharon Parker welcomes the visiting students to Unionville High School, Tuesday.

Each of the students — who are the equivalent of high school sophomores in China  — will shadow a Unionville student’s academic schedule for the next three weeks, while living with them. 18 younger Chinese students are visiting at Patton Middle School following a similar plan there.

Students, faculty and staff hosted a breakfast event to welcome them to Unionville and help them to get a bit acclimated before they headed off for their first classes of the day. Unionville’s Parent teacher Organization presented each of the students with a Unionville tote bag, containing a few tokens to remember their time here including a Unionville High t-shirt and water bottle.

The visit is a culmination of a school year of embracing Chinese culture and language, in part sparked by visiting scholar Xuan Yang from Wuhan, who in the process of spending a full six weeks in each of the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District’s elementary schools teaching language and culture to the younger students. She will finish her time in the district with stints at Patton as well as the high school, teaching older students. Part of the lasting legacy of this cultural and educational exchange will be that in the fall of 2011, the high school will begin offering distance learning courses in Mandarin Chinese.

“This is part of a dream we’ve had to bring children closer to the children of China,” UCF Superintendent of Schools Sharon Parker said, in greeting the students. “It is our hope that this will be an unforgettable experience.”

Students from The Experimental High School attached to Beijing Normal University listen as they learn a little about what their daily lives at Unionville will be like for the next few weeks.

The students flew from Beijing to Washington, DC and got the opportunity to see the sights in the nation’s capital before heading north to the Unionville area and the homes of their host families. While here, they will shadow their school hosts and will be expected to do the same classwork and take the same tests as their Unionville counterparts. While they won’t be formally graded — obviously, as the students are working outside of their native language and the curriculums between the US and China don’t exactly match up — the point is allow them the opportunity to really be immersed in life in the United States.

“We really want you to have a true American educational experience,” Unionville’s principal, Paula Massanari told the students.

The students will get a little hint of home and the chance to celebrate the Chinese New Year later this week at a special event being put on by the school’s International club — although Massanari cautioned that there would be no firecrackers — as one might find during a more typical new year’s celebration.

Speaking on behalf of the students, Yu Yengtao, the head teacher for the group, expressed their thanks to the Unionville community, the school and staff.

Yu Yengtao, the head teacher for the delegation of students from Beijing consults with Unionville PTO co-presidents Joanne Bates and Katy Donovan as tote bags are presented to the visiting children.

“I’m sure this will be a wonderful experience,” Yu said. “It’s no easy task for a school at accept such a large group into their school. Without the generosity of the parents, this would not be possible.”

Yu told his students it was important for them to keep “their ears and eyes open” so as to get the most from a “wonderful, unique experience.”

The students will be at the school for most of the month of February, attending classes through Feb. 25.

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