In November, two educators from our community experienced a unique opportunity. Addie Kaufman, principal of Marriotts Ridge High School, and Kathy McKinley, principal of Mt. View Middle School, traveled to China for a one-week educational tour as part of a Chinese Bridge Delegation.
This particular delegation, which consisted of about 45 principals and educational officials from the U.S. mid-Atlantic region, also included two Howard County Public School System central employees — Linda Wise, deputy Superintendent of Curriculum, Instruction and Administration; and Debbie Espetia, World Language Coordinator.
Espetia encouraged all Howard County principals with emerging Chinese language programs to apply for the annual tour, and then College Board, a nonprofit organization committed to U.S. educational excellence, selected the delegates.
The Chinese Bridge Delegation is the product of collaboration between College Board and Hanban/Confucius Institute Headquarters, a branch of the Chinese Ministry of Education that strives to promote Chinese language internationally. Other countries have similar exchanges with China.
This year's tour began in Beijing on Nov. 8 with a nationwide delegation of Americans, but each regional group split off on Nov. 9 to become immersed in a different Chinese province. The mid-Atlantic contingent visited Henan, which lies in the fertile, mid-eastern part of the country and is typically considered the breadbasket of China. "Henan" translates as "south of the river" because the Yellow River cuts through the northernmost part of the province.
Kaufman described the region as one of the most ancient in China and yet also one of the most up-and-coming. According to McKinley, the province exhibits tremendous growth side-by-side with tremendous poverty, perhaps due to the rapid growth. The people of Henan are very proud of their culture and their rich, 2,000-year-old history.
Both principals remarked on the warmth and hospitality of the people. Education is of prime importance in China, and educators are highly respected and valued. Everywhere the delegates visited, they were treated like dignitaries, with clapping, bowing, red carpets, and banquets.
The delegates viewed all levels of educational institutions, and McKinley noted that the elementary school they visited had its own farm. One of the more unique facilities on the tour was a kung fu school, which is highly selective but begins students as young as age 7.
Since American visitors are somewhat uncommon, the Chinese were very excited about the delegates and eagerly took pictures and asked questions. Kaufman and McKinley agreed that the best part of the tour was meeting students and speaking to them. Chinese children begin studying English in 3rd grade, so most were able to converse quite fluently with the delegates.
On Nov. 13, the groups reconvened in Beijing and gave presentations to the others about the province each had visited. Before their departure on Nov. 15, they enjoyed touring sites like the Great Wall and the Forbidden City. In all, McKinley described the tour as "beautifully coordinated," and Kaufman said that the experience was "incredibly impressive."
The goal, of course, is a mutually beneficial partnership. The Chinese hope to promote their language internationally, and they also want to learn about the innovation and creativity that are more evident in American classrooms.
Americans, on the other hand, would like to kick-start the Chinese language programs in their schools but need a better understanding of Chinese education and culture.
In our region of Howard County, Chinese is a pilot program at Manor Woods Elementary, and those language students will feed upward through Mt. View and Marriotts Ridge. Chinese programs are in place at select Howard County schools, but ultimately, the hope is for a strong program county-wide.
To learn more about Hanban/Confucius Institute Headquarters and its bridge and exchange programs, go to english.hanban.org.