China comes to Janesville via the Internet
A fourth-grader from China video-chatted with two of her peers in Janesville during the Janesville School Board's meeting Tuesday.
Speaking from Beijing was 10-year-old Fiona, who like many Chinese has taken a Western name in preparation for a trip to the West.
Fiona will go to school in Janesville starting next month while her mother, Jessie, teaches in the district, along with another Chinese teacher.
In the board's meeting room, Zack Schilling and Emilio Feldt, the sons of two school board members, waited.
The boys are learning Mandarin at school, and this was their second time talking to China.
Earlier this month, they and two other Janesville students chatted with Chinese students while about 300 Chinese teachers watched.
The cyber meeting was set up by Robert Smiley, the Janesville district's chief information officer.
Smiley and Superintendent Karen Schulte were visiting Jessie's school in Beijing.
Tuesday night's conversation started as the faces of Fiona and her mother appeared on the board's video screen. Jessie recognized a familiar face.
"Hey Bob, I can't hear you," Jessie said.
Smiley soon adjusted the volume.
"Fiona has some questions," her mother said.
"How old are you?" Fiona said in clear English.
The boy's responded:
"I'm 10, too."
When prompted, they repeated the number in Mandarin.
The boys asked Fiona what she likes at school.
"I like music and English," she said.
They asked her favorite food.
"I like dumplings."
The conversation's biggest hit was when one of the boys asked how many students were in Fiona's class.
"Forty-six," she said.
A surprised rumbling went through the room of parents and educators, who are accustomed to fourth-grade classes close to half that number.
"We really look forward to you coming to America," Smiley said as the conversation neared its end.
Smiley said afterward that the demonstration was an example of what the district planned to do in the future, to expose children to other cultures and expand their horizons.
Smiley said in a separate interview that the Chinese did not seem to have done much exploration of the potential for video chatting. He found out in China that the popular Skype video-chat software does not perform well with the Chinese Internet firewall. District computer staff found a program that does, called ooVoo.
Smiley said the Chinese teachers that he and Schulte met on their trip were very enthusiastic about the possibility of chatting on the Internet with Janesville teachers to learn about teaching methods.