Mohawk makes China connections
BUCKLAND — After spending a week in China, Mohawk Trail Regional School Principal Lynn Dole came home this week with two “sister schools” for Mohawk and new ties to Chinese communities that might some day send students to this rural — and comparatively tiny — high school in West County.
Mohawk will be visited this spring by a government official, who wants to see the school before he approves any children here for a school year, Dole said. When asked if this government official speaks English, Dole replied, “He graduated from Purdue (University, in Indiana).”
Dole is also hoping to connect Mohawk students to the Chinese students at the sister schools through Internet-based classroom conversations.
Mohawk is getting ready to host a three- to five-day summer camp for Chinese students this summer. The purpose would be to introduce prospective Chinese students to Mohawk, with classes that include local students in the mornings, and field trips around the region in the afternoon. The children would be housed with local families.
Superintendent of Schools Michael Buoniconti said it may even be possible to have a Chinese high school student enrolled for the next school year at Mohawk, although a lot of groundwork would need to be done before that could happen, he said.
Field trip to China
Meanwhile, the School Committee gave the go-ahead for educators to plan a nine-day “field trip” to China in April of 2015 — giving students in Grades 9 through 12 a chance to visit Beijing, Xi’an and Shanghai, along with Mohawk’s new sister schools and Shelburne Falls’ sister village of Mutianyu. The board’s approval was requested in advance, to give organizers a chance to organize fundraising and plan trip details.
Students who go would see the Summer Palace, the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square in Beijing. They would also ride a rickshaw, and fly to Xi’an, where they would take a bike ride on the ancient City Wall. They would also visit the Jade Buddha Temple in Shanghai. The estimated cost-per-student was given as $3,500.
Dole traveled with other New England school leaders to meet with Chinese educators and families that are interested in broadening their children’s educational opportunities by sending them to school here.
Several years ago, the Mohawk school board discussed seeking international students as a way to boost the school’s declining enrollment, add revenue and broaden local students’ awareness of other countries. This spring, however, the school board hired an educational consultant who specializes in placing Chinese students in American schools.
In Dole’s presentation to the Mohawk School Committee Wednesday, she said she had been to China three other times — once about two years after the 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising; in 2008, with a delegation of other teachers; and once as part of a community delegate to Shelburne Falls’ sister village, Mutianyu, a small tourist village by the Great Wall of China.
“I feel this fourth trip was different, because I know the people in those schools now,” she said. “We talked about what we can learn from each other.”
A highlight of her trip was visiting Mohawk’s sister school — the Quing He Middle School — and having dinner in the home of its school principal.
Dole also traveled to Mohawk’s other sister school, Danghu Senior High School in the county of Pinghu. According to Dole, Pinghu has a population of 500,000.
She said the high school had 50 students per classroom, while there were 40 students per class in the middle school. She noted that each student’s desk is piled high with books roughly a foot deep.
With such crowded classrooms, and the pressures of passing the “gow kao” college entrance exam, much of the classroom work involves memorization, Dole explained. She said parents want educational alternatives, that will teach their children critical thinking skills and which may prepare them for college abroad.
“We also had a meal with the parents of a student who is currently enrolled in a public school in Maine,” Dole said. “In Maine, the family said, their daughter has gained in confidence. She got to participate in theater, which she would not have been able to do at home.”
Attraction for China
Another attraction Mohawk might have for these Chinese families, said Dole, is clean air and water. “Between when I got on the flight to Newark and when I returned, I never saw a star,” she said of her stay in China. “I don’t think I ever saw blue sky. In the corridor along the east, you tasted the pollution. Chinese parents are very interested in having their children breathe clean air.”
Dole said she met with families and with agencies “who are already shopping for schools to place their children in for (next) fall.”
She said the Chinese school-year is comparable to the American school year. She said Chinese high school students from rural areas are already used to living in dormitories, because their schools are often several miles away from their hometowns.
Dole said one of her goals was to strengthen Mohawk’s connections with China, “with an eye toward introducing Chinese language, and expanding our students’ learning about the world through what we offer in our curriculum, through interacting with visiting students and through exchange opportunities.”
When asked how much it will cost, Buoniconti said Chinese families would probably pay about $30,000 per year, with $18,000 to $20,000 of that going to the school district, and the rest going to the host family where the student is staying.
The School Committee asked Buoniconti to prepare more specific information about the cost benefits to the Mohawk community for the December School Committee meeting.
They also wanted more details and cost estimates for the summer program.
Dole and Buoniconti say they want Mohawk to start small — with only one or two Chinese students in the early years — and then gradually increase. Dole said it’s important that the Chinese students are immersed in the local school experience.
You can reach Diane Broncaccio at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261, ext. 277