Archive for Wednesday, November 3, 2004

Lansing educators ready for mission to China

Exchange program goal of trip

November 3, 2004, 6:51 p.m.

Updated: 6:51 p.m.

— When Donna Hughes, assistant superintendent of the Lansing School District, heard about a chance to go to China, she doubted it would really happen.

"You always hear about opportunities like this, but usually when it comes close to the date, they decide to take less people, or it fizzles out," Hughes said.

Lions abroad

Assistant superintendent Donna Hughes and Lansing High School principal tell about their observations of Chinese culture throughout their 3-week tour. Read this entry.

Coming to the United States, he said, is even more of a privilege.

But Hughes has her bags packed. This trip to China is about to become a reality in two days.

Four representatives from the Lansing area will embark on a 10-day trip to China. Hughes, Lansing High School Principal Steve Dike, Dick Cameron, board member of the Lansing Educational Foundation, and Chris Aus, vice president of Aus Construction, will join 18 other participants in a China exchange program sponsored by the Kansas University Center for East Asian Studies and the Freeman Foundation.

The foundation funds efforts that expand Asian educational programs.

Nancy Hope, assistant director of East Asian Studies at KU, said Lansing was chosen to be a part of the select group going to China because of the existing cultural awareness in the district, including a trip to China this summer by art teacher Cathy Smith.

The group going to China consists of school administrators and business owners from the Lansing, Shawnee Mission and Lee's Summit, Mo., school districts.

Hughes said it was important the community understood the importance of cultural exchange.

"It is important to clear up misconceptions," Hughes said.

China's population is estimated at 1.3 billion people, and Hughes said studies show that China is quickly becoming a more developed world power. By 2020, China's gross national product is expected to exceed that of the United States.

China's growth has made it even more important for Americans to take an interest in Chinese culture, Hughes said.

"It is a disservice to our students to not expose them to this culture," Hughes said.

One of the goals of the trip for the Lansing representatives, Dike said, is to set up an exchange program with a Chinese high school, Kaifeng No. 5. Kaifeng is a tourist city in East Central China with a population of 4.6 million people.

As soon as next semester, several Chinese students may be moving to the Lansing area for a semester to experience American culture. The following semester, Lansing students could possibly complete the exchange by experiencing the Chinese lifestyle for a semester.

The Chinese system is based on strict regimen and rote memorization of drill and practice. All students can speak English at the high school level.

Hughes said she hoped the KU group could bring the higher level of American teachings to China.

"We would like to help teachers learn to teach critical thinking to their students," Hughes said.

After the ninth grade, all Chinese students take a test. If they pass, they can continue on to high school. If they don't pass, they go back and help work with their families.

"It's a country of extremes," Hughes said. "There are well-educated people in the city that can afford to pay for education, and then there are communities that are so poor and isolated that it is possible that many will be seeing Americans for the first time."

Hughes said people in some of the rural communities in China are so impoverished that they cannot afford education. Some families only make $100 each year - not enough to pay for public schooling.

She and the other participants are taking some school supplies to donate to students.

"Education is really the only form of social security for a majority of the population," Hughes said.

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