One of the highlights of the 5th grade Chinese Program curriculum is a unique cultural exchange program with our sister school, QiuShi Elementary School, in Hangzhou, China. We visit them each April and they in return come to visit us in October. Between visits, the students keep in contact with each other by Skype or email. When QiuShi students visit us in the fall, ISTP parents try to host the students who hosted their children in China the previous April. It is truly like a family reunion. The fond relationship that we have built with QiuShi over ten years makes ISTP’s exchange program well known and authentic.
This is my 5th year teaching 5th grade at ISTP. Having taken the students to Hangzhou twice in the past, and being impressed by QiuShi’s students, teachers, and their hospitality, I wanted to return the favor and showcase our school. Like previous years, while everyone was busy settling in for the beginning of the year, I also had to prepare my 5th graders for the QuiShi students’ visit. This is a major event in the Chinese Program and happens each year in early October.
The week prior to their arrival, our 5th graders practiced singing their welcoming songs and prepared a presentation of an overview of ISTP. Although every year we are under some time constraint to be well-prepared, the performance and presentation always turn out fantastic. As I recall, QiuShi’s teachers were impressed with our students’ lively singing and dancing. Their remarks about the performance and presentation over the years are always related to how open and student-centered America’s education is, how we care about each student’s individuality, and how good our students’ Chinese is.
This year we welcomed twenty-eight QiuShi 6th graders. On the first day, after our students’ performance and presentation, QiuShi students were spilt into two groups. One stayed with 5th grade and the other stayed with middle school. Discussing with our middle school teacher Jin Huo, we prepared an icebreaker activity, inspired by the adult speed-dating concept. The students sat face-to-face answering open-ended questions given by the teachers. Topics included hobbies, birthdays, pets, and lives in China and America. It was truly a cultural exchange as our students built connections with these Chinese students.
For ten years, we have sustained friendship and sisterhood with QiuShi, all thanks to our students. Watching them having so much fun talking, sharing things in common, speaking Chinese freely and confidently, and stepping out of their comfort zones to make international friends who they just met half an hour ago, I was moved by how successfully our Chinese program has developed for almost two decades!
On Wednesday, we had a full exchange experience with QiuShi all day long. Based on the schedule, Chinese students were in Kirsten Liepmann’s Math class and Haiying Yang’s Art class. Planning and brainstorming with Kirsten and Haiying, we came up with a collaborative interdisciplinary project that would involve all three subjects and symbolize the international sisterhood and friendship that ISTP has built with QiuShi.
In math, we asked each student to make a body figure and write three facts about themselves by using a fraction/decimal, whole number, and a percentage in both languages. It was amazing to see how the students helped each other with grammar and sentence structures in both English and Chinese. In art, we split forty-five students into nine groups and asked each group to create one ninth of a mosaic globe by using colors found in magazines. After we assembled all nine pieces, we surrounded the globe with the forty-five figures that the students had previously created. The final project not only shows each student’s individuality but also depicts a unique cultural exchange between the two countries.
After recess, I prepared an American cultural fair for the Chinese class. Planning with room parent Eileen Horng, we set up five different hands-on activities for QiuShi students to experience. My 5th graders’ job was to explain, teach them, and show off! It was great to have some moms stationed at each activity. The activities were cookie decorating, picture frame making, lanyard making, caramel apple decorating, and dream catcher making. Our students did a fantastic job presenting themselves, using the language for a real-world purpose, and truly embodying ISTP’s mission statement.
2014 is the tenth year of a strong relationship between ISTP and QiuShi. It is also an ISTP’s tradition that our students keep in touch with their Chinese friends over the years. With this valuable cultural experience, I couldn’t agree any more that an ISTP education helps our students become truly bilingual and bicultural. I look forward to seeing the growth of both schools, and to further developing our partnership in the future.