May 16, 2013

Forging friendships

Chinese visitors experience school, life in Logansport.

by Mitchell Kirk

LOGANSPORT — A group of 30 Chinese citizens — students, teachers and an education delegate — stayed with families and toured elementary schools in Logansport this week where they observed classes, learned about one another and forged friendships through a recently established cultural exchange program.

Wang Li and Shi Jin Song, both vice principals of Zhejiang Yongkang Renmin Primary School, one of Logansport’s newly established sister schools in the province of Zhejiang, were among the group.

In an interview translated by Lei Wang, Ph.D. candidate with the Educational Leadership and Policy Department at Indiana University, the two school administrators said they were “very impressed” with Logansport’s academic environment.

Li and Song, both with backgrounds in teaching math, said textbooks used in China and the United States are very similar, as is the physical makeup of the schools themselves.

The administrators said in China, one class stays together throughout the students’ childhoods as opposed to being grouped with new kids at the beginning of each year. Students also remain in the same room while teachers of different subjects are the ones coming in and out throughout the day.

Classes in China are also significantly bigger, they said, with sometimes up to 60 students in a class as opposed to the rooms with 20 to 30 typically found in the United States.

“Teachers have no time to explain, they just give the answer,” Song said as Wang translated, adding that class sizes in developed areas of China have been reduced in recent years in order to ensure a more efficient teaching style.

Both administrators said they were particularly impressed with the way Logansport teachers divided students based on their academic ability in order to further ensure each student is able to grasp the material they’re learning and have an opportunity to advance, adding they feel education in the U.S. is more emphasized on development.

“School is not only for teaching, but to play, to grow up,” Wang translated Li as saying. “School should feel like home.”

An 11-year-old Chinese student who introduced herself as Yolanda, the name she adopted to make it easier for English speakers to address her, said she was having fun at the Logansport schools “solving math problems, drawing and listening to English words.”

In a group interview with Yolanda and several of her peers, Wang patiently sorted through their enthusiastic replies, explaining they said there is far more homework in China. They said they were surprised by the lines at bathrooms, as there are no breaks between classes in schools back home. Water fountains were a new discovery as well — Chinese students tend to stick to cups or water bottles. They were also fans of the houses they got to stay in. Many families in China live in apartments.

When asked if they would like it if students from Logansport came to visit their school in China, their blank faces awaited Wang’s translation, then burst into a fervent response.

“Of course!” Wang translated.

Scott and Emily Graham hosted two of the students, Ren Yi Kan and Dai Aao Jie, both 13, for their stay. After school, the boys would spend time with the couple and their four children, sharing family meals, playing out the in yard and trying all of the flavors at the Sycamore Drive-In, which Scott owns.

Ren Yi Kan and Dai Aao Jie have a grasp on the fundamentals of the English language, but Emily said many of their conversations were conducted with the aid of a translator app on her iPad.

The tablet device came in handy for interviewing purposes as well.

After reading questions translated into Chinese, the boys quickly typed their replies before handing the iPad back with smiling faces. The text on the screen stated they enjoyed attending Logansport schools and that they would like it if Logansport students came to visit their schools in the future.

Emily, assistant director at the Century Career Center and coordinator of the English Learner program at Logansport High School, said she was excited about the two school systems forging a relationship. Her duties with the English Learner program have mostly pertained to Logansport’s Hispanic population and she said she is looking forward to seeing it expand.

“I would love to see that grow into another culture,” she said. “There are so many things we can learn from them.”

Emily’s 12-year-old daughter, Claire, agreed.

“It’s building a foundation and hopefully it will grow into more,” she said. She is interested in discovering the similarities and differences between Chinese and American culture and would like to study in China someday herself.

As Vice Principal Song spoke during the interview, Wang translated him as saying there is a popular phrase in China he felt applies to the sister school relationship between Logansport and Zhejiang.

“When two get together, you discover your own and each other’s strengths and weaknesses and learn from each other.”

Mitchell Kirk is a staff reporter at the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at 574-732-5130 or


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