A handful of Regional School District 13 administrators and a teacher left last Friday for a weeklong trip to Ningbo, China, to visit a school where students may be able to participate in an exchange program as early as next fall.
“We want our students to understand that the world is actually a small place and that there's a potential for them to make connections in all parts of the world and to have a positive impact that comes from working with others,” School Superintendent Kathryn Veronesi said. “I believe regardless of the involvement or exposure to this partnership, that the experience will have a lifelong impact on our students and our community.”
Coginchaug Regional High School Principal Brian Falcone was joined by high school world language teacher Kate Germond, Veronesi and Board of Education members Bob Moore and Norm Hicks.
The administrators planned to spend three days in the Ningbo Tongji High School, formerly Yinxian Wangchun High School, getting to know as much as they can about the school as possible. The remaining time was to be spent sightseeing and learning about Chinese culture. Ningbo is situated south of Shanghai.
They expect to come home with a memorandum of agreement with Ningbo school officials, regarding the details of the partnership. They will determine aspects that include how many students could travel, how much tuition would be charged, how long the exchange would be and when.
“We will meet with local officials and school officials and we’ll work out an agreement on how the program will work with students coming here and our students going there,” Moore said.
The partnership might also chose a framework of STEM or another topic on which to build, with the goal of making the program not just fun, but a significant global and educational experience.
The school board has been working with Jason Hiruo, who manages ACES International, and has helped several other districts start exchange programs. He is guiding the group through this week’s trip.
Hiruo presented the board with five schools as potential partners, and Ningbo Tongji High School was chosen based on its similarities to Coginchaug Regional High School.
“I think that in their own way, they also have a focus on core ethical values and having students be kind of citizens of the world and a focus on STEAM ... and also art and music, which are obviously super important to our high school,” Veronesi said.
She said the board has heard from students who want opportunities to be part of “the world community” and would be excited not only for the potential to travel, but also to have international students with them in school.
Veronesi said they chose a school in China because they wanted to be sure the partnership is sustained over time and needed to collaborate with a school and country with the financial means necessary to maintain the partnership.
Administrators from the school in China are expected to visit the district this spring for a similar exploration period.
Moore said if all goes well, the exchange portion of the partnership could be up and running as soon as fall of 2019.
While the focus is currently on high school students, Veronesi said she sees the partnership expanding to other ages in the future, not necessarily as traditional travel exchanges, but maybe by using technology to connect.
“I think that our middle school students could absolutely have the chance to have the same type of partnership,” Veronesi said. She said elementary school students could be involved, too, in different ways.
“I think it's a very different opportunity for our kids and our kids to get a sense of (other cultures),” Moore said.
The trip is paid for through school district funds, which were specifically set aside in the last budget for this purpose, Veronesi said. Hicks’ travel expenses will be paid for by ACES, as he is a member of the group’s board of directors.
The group’s sightseeing itinerary includes the Forbidden City, Great Wall, Temple of Heaven, and a final day and a half in Shanghai.
Veronesi said trip updates would be posted on the Regional School District 13 website, until they return on Saturday, Dec. 8. The group members will eventually present their findings, likely at the January or February school board meeting.