NEW PALESTINE — Six Doe Creek Middle School students sat quietly at desks arranged at the front of the classroom with somewhat pensive, yet intrigued expressions.
The language barrier was bridged through an interpreter, who stood near the students, allowing them to have a firsthand experience meeting and interacting with educators from a different country.
All eyes were on the students as they answered questions from more than 20 middle school educators from the Zhejiang Provincial Department of Education in China. The educators were touring the school as part of an educational opportunity through the Chinese Education Connection.
The international program is a learning opportunity designed for American and Chinese educators as well as Indiana Department of Education officials, to work together to share and learn about different educational practices in the United States and China.
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Linda Lawrence, head of operations for CEC, works with officials from China to help train their educators, who visit top middle schools and take back ideas to implement in their classrooms.
“The two countries are more alike than we are different,” Lawrence said.
No matter the differences in culture and classroom structure, students are students, Lawrence said as she noted how the educational systems have changed dramatically in the past 10 years in China.
While students in the United States have more one-to-one computer availability, students in China have technology, but not at a one-to-one level.
Chinese students are taught to understand facts, while American students have moved more to having a better understanding of subjects with a collaborative curriculum, Lawrence said.
The sharing experience was eye-opening for Chinese educators, they said.
Shen Shanshan, a Chinese vice principal, was enthralled watching students move from classroom to classroom at Doe Creek. In China, the teachers are the ones who change rooms throughout the day, she said.
Shanshan saw many other differences throughout the day at Doe Creek, including in the curriculum and the smaller classroom sizes, but noticed specifically how engaged the students seem to be at the school.
“They seem so happy,” she said.
Cora Jones, seventh-grader, thought it was a great learning experience for the select students who had the opportunity to meet someone from another country, a rare opportunity, she said.
Fellow classmate Braeden Baker, an eighth-grader, liked hearing what the Chinese educators thought about the American educational system.
“They were really friendly, so it felt easy to talk with them,” he said.
Jim Voelz, Doe Creek Middle School principal, went to China through the CEC program nearly 10 years ago and was pleased to have the Chinese educators come to his school to help them learn more about the American educational system.
As one of the top public middle schools in the state, Voelz said educators are always wanting to visit Doe Creek and see what makes the school a success. He also liked having the opportunity to bring an international awareness to his students, who are often focused on their small world in New Palestine, he said.
The day also included a panel with Doe Creek educators who answered questions from the inquisitive visiting educators.