NEW PALESTINE — Several years ago, Doe Creek Middle School Principal Jim Voelz traveled to China, where he saw firsthand just how differently educators approach instruction.
“They are extremely disciplined over there and have gates around the schools,” Voelz said. “Their students each day are taking in so much information; it is full bore with much longer school days.”
It was such an eye-opening experience that when an acquaintance from the program, China Project Hope, contacted Voelz and asked if he could play host to a Chinese teacher and seven Chinese middle school students for the day, he was eager to reciprocate.
China Project Hope is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing support and sponsorship for Chinese students abroad every year.
While the Chinese students have been to Boston and New York for visits, they will attend a private Catholic school in Indianapolis later this month for two and a half weeks.
Still, they were looking for an opportunity to get into a public school for at least a day, Voelz said.
So, on Wednesday, the group shadowed some of Doe Creek’s students and experienced a typical day at school.
“It’s just a chance for the Chinese students to experience public school, and it’s a good experience for our kids to be open to other cultures,” Voelz said
The day started with Voelz matching the seven Chinese students, who spoke very little English, with his students.
Before sending them off to classes, he handed each of the Chinese students a school shirt and told them to enjoy the experience.
Dwana Sandala has worked with exchange students for 18 years; she is the school director for Foreign Links Around the Globe. It was through that program she became aware of China Project Hope. She and Voelz both attend Brookville Road Community Church, where she asked Voelz if he would be open to the idea of sharing his school for a day.
“Since he had visited China, I thought this would be a perfect fit,” Sandala said.
She said CPH is unique because the students travel with their teacher.
“The teacher can then also learn about our culture and teaching practices and then return home to share this with her fellow teachers,” Sandala said.
Shi Ling, who is using the American name Nancy while in the states, is the Chinese students’ English teacher in China. She had the chance to visit with three Doe Creek English teachers to learn some of their skills.
“I feel very appreciative that my students can share a different school life – a Chinese experience with their American friends,” she said.
Ling said American schools are much more flexible with students than teachers are in her homeland.
“The teachers have a much different teaching style where they are very creative,” Ling said. “They make their students do something by themselves not to just tell them what to do and how to do it. They want the students to find resolutions to the problems and deal with them by themselves.”
Another major difference, she noted, was how American students have much more access to computers.
“I don’t think Chinese schools have so much computer programs,” Ling said.
As for the students, Sandala instructed the Doe Creek youngsters to use fewer words when trying to communicate with the Chinese students they were paired with.
“I think this is great,” student Trevor Darley said as they day began. “I’m looking forward to showing my guy around. I just want him to learn everything he can about the school.”
Classmate Carson Gavin said he was looking forward to learning some new things himself.
“I think it is really good that we get to speak with someone from another country and learn about their country,” he said.
Sandala said it’s important for students from China to see that there is another way of living, particularly students coming from a communist country.
“This is a diplomacy effort by the U.S. Department of State,” Sandala said. “As international students come in and visit, then their opinion of the United States is not controlled by the media. It becomes one of personal experience, and that’s important because all the children who are here are from families that are connected to the government.”