China trip aimed at educational, cultural exchanges

May 3 2006

A recent visit to China laid the groundwork for expanding academic and cultural exchanges involving Indiana State University, and the creation of new exchanges for K-12 schools around the state.

John Layton, Tecumseh Middle School ISU, the Indiana Department of Education, Indiana Economic Development Corp., and six K-12 school systems were represented on the trip that included visits to the Chinese capital of Beijing, as well as the cities of Shanghai and Dalian, in northeastern China's Liaoning province.

Dubbed a "key leaders" visit because it involved mostly principals, school superintendents and other administrators who went to lay the groundwork for bringing the kinds of faculty-student exchanges often found at colleges and universities to the elementary and secondary level.

One school principal who was part of the 30-member delegation to China that engaged in "cultural immersion" - staying in Chinese homes and spending extensive time in Chinese schools - called the experience "an awesome trip."

John Layton of Tecumseh Middle School in Lafayette, who spent time teaching English at Century Middle School in Dalian, said he met "some of the brightest, most educated students I have ever crossed paths with."

The curriculum in Chinese schools emphasizes science and math, while English is taught as "the language of business," Layton said.

"I witnessed a nation that has made education a top priority. We too must, as a nation, begin again to make education a national priority. We must find ways to make education important to our youth and their parents and to generate an excitement among our young people to pursue careers in the fields of engineering and science," he said. "We must continue to foster the creative advantage we currently have and instill within our students a feeling of pride in their abilities so that they become tomorrow's world leaders."

What the Chinese are interested in learning from Indiana educators is how to teach their students to be more creative, Layton said.

"Chinese teachers are just now beginning to implement what we consider best instructional practices of learning cooperatively in pairs and in small groups to solve problems," he said.

Plans are to develop teacher exchanges between Tecumseh and a Dalian's Century Middle School, followed by student exchanges, Layton said.

Turkey Run School Corp. in Parke County has similar plans, said Superintendent Roberta Bowen.

"We are hoping our students will get a chance to broaden their horizons and learn about people in different cultures," Bowers said. "It's important that our kids appreciate the different cultures and languages."

Bowers and Pam Rager, Turkey Run principal, brought several artifacts back from China in order to introduce students to Chinese culture in advance of planned faculty-student exchanges.

"I hope this will be the first step in what will be a neat adventure for our students in Parke County," Bowers said. "We were really intrigued with some of the Chinese teachers we met who teach English and Chinese. We would like to have some Chinese language instruction for our students."

Bowers hopes to launch a faculty-student exchange with China in conjunction with the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

Chinese educator already reaching out in Indianapolis

Just weeks after the 10-day visit to China, a retired Chinese educator is teaching in one Indianapolis school system, and educators say additional exchanges will follow.

Among nearly 30 K-12 "key leaders" who traveled to China was Stephen Keith, director of student programs for the Metropolitan School District of Washington Township. Keith led a contingent of Washington Township educators.

While in China, he met Wang Qin, former principal of Dalian School No. 48 in northeastern China. Qin had retired at China?s mandatory retirement age of 55, but still had a keen interest in teaching students.

Qin conveyed that desire to Keith and asked if she could take him up on an offer he had made for her to come teach in the United States. Keith welcomed the opportunity and Qin is now sharing Chinese language and culture with Washington Township schools.

"She is a fascinating woman and this is very much a great opportunity for our students. Our partnership is truly underway," Keith said. "As educators, we owe our students access to the world and it is very difficult to access the world if we don't utilize the opportunities that we have available to us."

Brownsburg looks to prepare students for global society

"We would be interested in employing a teacher, beginning next year, to teach Chinese language at the middle school level," said Jan Viars, assistant superintendent of Brownsburg Community Schools.

"Our corporation has a mission statement that says we are going to prepare our students for a global technical society and we have done a very good job with regard to the technical aspect," Viars said, "but we also want to enhance the global education experience, so we were absolutely delighted to become a part of this initiative."

A video about the visit to Dalian by Brownsburg teachers has been broadcast on community-access cable television, and school leaders are beginning to receive feedback from the community.

John Layton, Tecumseh Middle School "There are some people who are very delighted to hear [about the proposed exchange] but we have some people who are questioning it. We know we have more work to do with regard to educating our public in order to accept Chinese as the language that should be taught at the middle school level," Viars said.

For Stephanie Bode, seventh-grade global studies teacher at Brownsburg East Middle School, the decision is an easy one.

"It's imperative that our kids learn about a country where one out of every four people on the planet live," she said.

Evansville charter school builds on global mission

"We're very excited about establishing a partnership with Dalian Middle School No. 2," said Vicky Snyder, principal of Signature Education Center in Evansville. "We hope to get an exchange program going that would involve both students and teachers."

Established in 2002, Signature is a charter school whose stated mission is "to meet the needs of self-motivated learners in a progressive environment driven by global concerns."

Publication of "The World Is Flat" by New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman has had a tremendous impact, Snyder noted. "The World Is Flat" is an account of how changes in technology and communications have put people all over the globe in touch as never before.

"We knew from the very beginning when we established the school that a global education was very critical in terms of our economy and where it seems we're headed," Snyder said.

Existing partnerships involving Indiana State help K-12 schools

Organizers say existing partnerships Indiana State has with Chinese higher education institutions are helping to pave the way for exchanges at elementary and secondary schools.

"Indiana State University has a longstanding relationship with Liaoning University and Liaoning Normal University in Dalian. We want to use that relationship to provide some sort of infrastructure for K-12 school partnerships," said Chris McGrew, coordinator of social studies education with the Indiana Department of Education.

"During our visit to the provincial capitol of Hanzhou, particularly the Zhejiang Academy of Social Science, it became evident that universities and their faculty take a leadership in promoting growth and fostering the development of new policies," said Jay Gatrell, assistant professor of geography and coordinator of ISU?s social science education program.

"Visits with industry leaders in Shanghai highlighted the need for Indiana and ISU to seriously engage the many challenges and opportunities associated with the global economy. Based on our experiences, I am confident that ISU and its partners - in Indiana and China - can develop and implement high quality learning experiences that are mutually beneficial, and enable the state and region to prepare for and compete in what has been called by some writers 'China's Century'," Gatrell said.

"Everyone we met with in China was open and encouraging of the project and certainly recognizes the need for better understanding between the people of China and the United States. These kinds of programs are a way of starting that process," added John Conant, professor and chair of ISU's department of economics and director of the university's Center for Economic Education. Educators who made the trek to China "had their eyes opened and have a story to tell. We're excited about building relationships with the Chinese people, in particular with Chinese educators and children," said Robert Cupp, superintendent of Decatur County Schools. Teachers and administrators say the assistance of Indiana State and the Indiana Department of Education proved invaluable.

"I really don't think we could have done it without them,' Bowers said. "With the complexity of getting into the country, being able to visit the ministry of education, and getting into the schools, I really don't think that is something a lone school district can do. You need to have someone who knows how to do those things and pave the way for you in order to get a really meaningful experience," she said.

"The strength of this group is the fact that it is not just a group of schools, but it involves universities," added Keith. "Indiana State has been an important part of this group. Many schools in China are interested in having that university component. ISU provided valuable support before we left and helped us appreciate what we were about to see."

The China Exchange Initiative - Indiana China trip was funded by a grant from the Freeman Foundation. The Freeman Foundation is encouraging stronger ties between the United States and China through educational exchanges. The Indiana Council for Social Studies received the grant that funded a portion of the experience. Indiana State University, the Indiana Department of Education, the participants, and their schools also paid for a portion of the trip.


Contact: John Conant, professor and chair, department of economics,; and director, Center for Economic Education, Indiana State University, (812)237-37

Writer: Dave Taylor, media relations director, Indiana State University, (812) 237-3743 or

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Story Highlights

A recent visit to China laid the groundwork for expanding academic and cultural exchanges involving Indiana State University and the creation of new exchanges for K-12 schools around the state.

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