Our Views: Local studies bridge two worlds

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Saturday, August 10, 2013

To prepare children to not just survive but thrive in today's global economy, immersing them in cross-cultural experiences is crucial.

That was the key point in the first International Summer Institute at Janesville Craig High School, which is part of a broader program that links the local schools with students, educators and schools in China.

We see no downsides to this initiative of Janesville Superintendent Karen Schulte, who's cultivating international relations unique to southern Wisconsin districts.

The summer institute united two-dozen Chinese kids with Janesville elementary students who have been studying the Mandarin language. Six Chinese high school students likewise were paired with local teens.

They learned academic basics but also about each other's culture. They discovered that kids are kids, regardless of whether they grow up on opposite sides of the world. All enjoy the languages of horseplay, video games and cellphones, as The Gazette's Frank Schultz reported last weekend.

Critics fear the China initiative draws focus and resources away from teaching our own kids the basics. Instead, this outreach could enhance those studies and more. The kids learn about tolerance, respect and the understanding needed when meeting and dealing with people from another culture—lessons that could bolster career opportunities.

Schultz noted how a Janesville boy and Chinese boy draped arms around each other's shoulders while walking to the Rock County 4-H Fair.

His report also explained that Chinese parents want to send their children to school here because they believe our education system is better. The number of Chinese students at U.S. universities tripled from 2006 to 2010, and diplomas from U.S. high schools might open more doors. With degrees from colleges here, young Chinese adults have advantages over their peers when they return to start careers back home.

Chinese parents paid $5,000, including airfare, for each child who came here for the summer program. Local families deserve credit for agreeing to provide food, lodging and parenting. While all costs of the program have yet to be tabulated, officials expect revenues to slightly exceed expenses. The program, however, was just the start of Schulte's vision to bring Chinese students to the district for entire school years as early as 2014. They will pay tuition—perhaps premiums—that could help pay for other district educational needs.

China likely won't be the only foreign country with students studying here. Schulte plans a Janesville International Education Program that already includes exchanges of teachers and/or students with Argentina, Thailand, Spain, Germany and France. She wants the program to touch every Janesville child.

Schulte fulfilled her promise to parents by flying with the younger Chinese students as they returned home. It was her fourth trip to China. She understands that for this program to work, local educators must build relationships face to face.

As Schulte has said, our students must be globally competitive and comfortable living in today's connected world. As the district offers such lessons, we'll create ties that could stir business deals here while making our district more attractive to entrepreneurs and young families.

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