February 22nd, 2012
Chinese students visit Highland High School
Principal Peter Harris and senior Xiangying Shuai display the silk brocade presented to the school by a group of visiting students and educators from China.
By Xiangying Shuai,
Senior at Highland High School
Highland - Highland High School welcomed 28 high school students and three teachers from China on February 1, 2012. I was honored to speak to those students about my educational experience at Highland High School since I moved here from Sichuan Province, China three years ago. These students and teachers were very impressed with the variety of courses offered at Highland High School, as well as the many extracurricular activities available to students.
Though these students are from different provinces in China, they share something in common: all of them have expressed an interest in studying at American universities after they graduate from high school.
Ms. Michelle Hsu and Ms. Janet Tsong from the International Academic Alliance (IAA) in New York City and Ms. Helise Winters from SUNY New Paltz’s International Communications department accompanied the Chinese students to Highland High School. The IAA is an international education organization, which collaborates with educational institutions to provide quality academic programs to students in the U.S. and abroad (China, India and Singapore). SUNY New Paltz is one of IAA’s partner organizations.
All of these students are enrolled in the “University in High School Program” in China. The University in High School Program classes are taught in English and these students are learning the same material that American high school students are taught.
Mr. Peter Harris, the principal of HHS, planned a surprise for Highland students: “I didn’t give our students any notice before the Chinese students came here, because I wanted them to experience what an American high school is really like. In turn, it is also necessary for our students to know a little more about another culture and live with it.”
On the tour led by Highland’s assistant principle Mr. Andre Spinelli, the Chinese students watched Highland students play badminton in gym class, observed students working on their art projects, listened to the band rehearse and snapped photos at everything that was new to them. The students were especially interested in the art and music programs because these are not offered in the Chinese schools they attend.
“American students are really lucky,” commented the Chinese students. They wish they had the opportunity to take these types of courses. In China, most high school students go to school from 7:35 AM to 9:00 PM, 5 days a week. After school, they have to finish a certain amount of homework and then study, leaving little time for extracurricular activities. However, the fact is, their hard work and sacrifices always seem to pay off.
The highlight of the day for the students and their teachers was attending fourth period classes with Highland students. Each student chose his/her favorite course and was brought to the class by two Highland student chaperones appointed by the teacher of the corresponding course. The classes they attended include AP Economics, Chemistry, Organic Living, English, AP Calculus and AP Europe.
Students chaperon Carly Bilchak smiled when she said, “I loved the Chinese students. They were very nice and respectful.”
“Chemistry was really fun. We were learning the same thing in China and so we were able to solve the problems easily,” said the group of students who participated in fourth period Chemistry class.
“One of the Chinese girls aced all our practice problems. It is amazing how she goes to school in another country but is still able to understand the problems in English,” said Highland senior Marcus Desir, who was in Mr. John Manganiello’s AP Economics class with the students from China.
When asked what they are most concerned about in coming to America to continue their education, the Chinese students felt that the language barrier would be their biggest challenge. I encouraged them to not worry. With their Chinese work ethic, they will excel no matter where they are.
Mr. Steve Masson, who had five of these Chinese students in his fourth period English class, said, “They were attentive. They laughed at the jokes, so apparently they were understanding what we were talking about. It is understandable that they were hesitant about speaking up because they were in our classroom for the first time. Reading about a culture is much different than going and experiencing it. They might have heard and read about what an American school is like, but now they’ve seen it and experienced it. Now America is much more real to them.”
After fourth period, all the Chinese students were invited to attend the SAT workshop presented by Highland guidance counselors Mrs. Kelly Nelson and Ms. Heather Bragg. This presentation added to the Chinese students’ understanding of what an American student goes through during the high school-to-college transition.
During the last part of the tour, the Chinese students had lunch in the high school cafeteria, where they sampled barbecue chicken sandwiches and French fries, perhaps the most American food combination. At lunch, they told me, “We are very excited because this is our first time here. Our first impression is that Americans are very nice and friendly. We want to make a lot of friends here. Um... by the way, American kids should really eat healthier.”
The Chinese students left after lunch. The next stop on the tour was Massachusetts in order to visit MIT and Harvard University, but no matter where they will go, whether they will attend a university here in the U.S. or stay in China, they will always remember Highland.
Mr. Wayne Hill, Highland’s ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher, who has taught many international students in his career, spoke to the group about the importance of English writing and strategies involved in taking the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), which is crucial for foreign students who are considering enrolling in American universities.
He later commented on the Chinese students’ visit to Highland: “These students are extremely lucky to have this kind of cross-cultural experience. Travel broadens the mind and teaches respect for other cultures… and that, ladies and gentlemen, is the foundation for peace, in the world and in our homes. I hope all HHS students at some point have an opportunity to visit or live in another culture.”