Local educators make trek to China for partnership
JANESVILLE A school board member and the superintendent of Janesville public schools are scheduled to return Thursday from an eight-day trip to China.
Board member Kristin Hesselbacher and Superintendent Karen Schulte are hoping to set up a partnership with schools in China for exchanges of students and teachers, according to district documents.
Schulte has written about a program that "would connect schools in Beijing and Shanghai to our Chinese language program in the School District of Janesville, opening dialogue for a reciprocal exchange between (Janesville) staff, students and parents to Chinese partner schools for a Chinese summer institute."
Janesville public schools began teaching Mandarin Chinese to students in grades 3-5 at Harrison and Roosevelt elementary schools in 2009. The program now encompasses 373 elementary students, 73 middle school students and 28 students at the Janesville Academy for International Students, which includes high school and middle school students.
The district is phasing out German instruction but continues to offer French and Spanish in middle and high schools.
Plans call for six teachers or student teachers from China to visit Janesville from February to mid-July, 2013. Host families and corporate sponsors would cover costs.
Twenty Chinese elementary students will join Janesville elementary students studying Chinese at a two-week program at Roosevelt School in June.
"Visiting Chinese students will learn American language and culture through immersion," according to a planning document.
A similar program in July would involve 20 high school students from China and 20 from Janesville.
State aid based on summer-school enrollment would cover the costs. Local families would lodge the visitors.
"We need to be teaching our students to think outside of our little world and prepare to engage with the world around us," Schulte wrote in a recent blog. "Students need to be able to connect to the heart of those outside of the U.S., reaching to understand the cultures that it is becoming essential to connect with, so that they can thrive in this ever increasing global community."
The Hanban/Confucius Institute is paying for Schulte's and Hesselbacher's trip, according to school district officials. The institute describes itself as "a public institution affiliated with the Chinese Ministry of Education."
Schulte wrote in a blog from China that the trip includes more than 100 U.S. educators, including some from Verona, Sun Prairie and Racine.
Teacher and student exchanges are beneficial to the United States and China, said Melanie Agnew, assistant dean of the college of education at UW-Whitewater, who visited China in May.
Agnew expects to see more U.S.-China exchange programs in years to come.
China has rapidly expanded its English teaching over the past two decades but still has a teacher shortage, Agnew said.
Agnew noted that while English is the dominant language internationally, China is a major trading partner, and Mandarin is one of the most commonly spoken languages on the planet.
"They have a responsibility to their own students to teach and prepare their students for the 21st century, as do we," Agnew said.
Agnew said she visited colleges and high schools in China, and it was clear the Chinese were interested in improving their teaching of English.
The United States is largely a one-language country, but policymakers would like to change that, and teacher and student exchanges are one way to make that happen, Agnew said.
China also is a global competitor with the United States.
"The more we learn about China, and the more China learns about the U.S. or any other country, particularly with our young people, we can perhaps work towards international cooperation and international peacemaking as an approach to national security," Agnew said.