When Laurel High School Principal Dwayne Jones found himself nearly 7,000 miles from home standing at the Great Wall of China, he called his wife and said “I’m calling you from the Great Wall of China.”
One of the “new” Seven Wonders of the World, the “living, breathing stair-master,” according to Jones, wasn’t just a stop on vacation. He was on an educational leadership field trip.
In November, Jones, who has been Laurel High’s principal for 14 years, was part of the Chinese Bridge Delegation, a program conducted by the College Board, an organization that connects students to higher education opportunities.
“The Chinese Bridge Delegation is a program that aims to help educators start or strengthen their institution’s Chinese programs and partnerships, and an opportunity to foster understanding between U.S. and Chinese educators,” said José Rios, a spokesman for the College Board, in an email.
During the nine day trip from Nov. 2 to 11, Jones traveled with principals, assistant principals, superintendents and other central office staff from all over the country to schools in Harbin in Northern China
“Each school we visited had something different about it,” Jones said. “Gave us a taste of schools in China.”
At one school, the students had a heavy course load of Advanced Placement classes commonly referred to as AP,in which students can earn college credits.
Robotics were the focus at oneI school, while another had a strong emphasis on the performing arts.
All participants on the tour were affiliated with a Chinese language program in one form or another, Jones said. Laurel High has had a Chinese language program for the past seven years.
A global school, Laurel High’s student body and staff represents 52 nations, Jones said.
It offers world languages classes in Chinese, German, French, Portuguese and Spanish.
An International Baccalaureate School for nearly 30 years, Laurel High has offers a curriculum that is challenging and internationally recognized, Jones said.
Joann Liu, who is in her first year teaching Mandarin Chinese at Laurel High, recommended Jones apply to the program. Liu teaches all high school students, freshman through seniors, in either level one, two or three of Mandarin.
In 2013, Liu, herself, went on the trip with the College Board, finding the experience to be culturally and educationally rewarding.
“It was a wonderful experience for me, even though I was born in China,” Liu said. “I still learned a lot from the delegation because it’s from a different perspective.”
Liu, who came to the United States to earn her doctorate, said she learned “quite a bit” from the administrative point of view of China’s school system, from traveling to various elementary, middle and high school schools.
“Students were highly motivated in learning and well behaved with a clear purpose why they were there, so there was not a large security force,” Liu said.
The security guards Liu did come in contact with were mainly in charge of student security around the boarding school side of campus, especially at night, she said. Some students leave home to attend high school.
School administrators were “highly motivated” to connect with the visiting American leadership staff for possible collaborations, such as school exchange programs, Liu said.
Previous participants have gone on to establish Chinese language programs in their schools and districts. Others have created new opportunities to offer AP Chinese Language and Culture classes and other language programs, according to Rios.
While the high school is not ready at this time to start the program, Jones said he gained ideas on the next steps to finding a sister school.
Jones was also able to do some sightseeing and experience Chinese culture.
He visited Beijing National Stadium, commonly referred to as the “Bird’s Nest,” where the 2008 summer Olympics were held and where the 2022 winter games will be. The group also traveled to the Harbin Ice Palace, a Siberian Tiger Park and Tiananmen Square, where many civilians were killed by government troops during student-led pro-democracy demonstrations in 1989.
Jones also ate unfamiliar food, with most of his meals served on lazy susans, rotating trays, sitting at a table with 10 to 12 people. He ate duck, chicken with winter bamboo shoots, steamed okra, fried scallion pancakes and more.
“I ate dumplings stuffed with just about everything and any meal was topped off with fruit---watermelon, tangerines and oranges,” Jones said.
The College Board covers hotels, group meals, transportation, visits to cultural and historical sites and other local costs, according to its website.
Participants are responsible for airfare, international travel insurance, China entry visa fees and any United States passport application fees, if needed.
“It was a great educational and cultural experience,” Jones said. “China was never on [my] bucket list of places to go, but I’m very pleased that I went and can see myself going again.”