The Bedford Central School District would like its students to look beyond their classrooms and see themselves as part of a global community—and has established relationships with two high schools in China as one way of doing so.
Over the summer, Fox Lane High School Principal Joel Adelberg and Drew Patrick, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, traveled to China and signed "sister agreements" two Chinese High Schools: Bejing 165 and Dajing High School in Shanghai.
The agreements follow previous visits from Chinese students to Bedford and are part of the district's efforts to encourage cultural literacy among its students.
"It's our responsibility to prepare students to be citizens of the world," said Adelberg to the Bedford Central school board last week.
The agreements signify friendship, cultural understanding and the promise of educational exchange, said Adelberg. The agreements have also prompted the school to look at adding an after-school course in Mandarin. School administrators have met with certified teachers and the course is in the exploration stages.
The district will host a delegation from Bejing for two weeks in January and the principal of Dajing High School in May. Both schools are considered top performing in China, Adelberg said.
"It's fascinating with everything we hear about Asian education. There's a lot we do really well here and we've far surpassed them in the areas of critical thinking and creativity," he said.
The Chinese students who attended Fox Lane for five months last year said they had never had the opportunities for exchange with their teachers in China the way they had here, for example.
"That is why they are sending people over here to learn from us," he said, noting he hoped Fox Lane students would have the opportunity to travel to China in fall 2013.
During their visit, Adelberg and Patrick toured facilities—including a teacher observation room equipped with a camera and one-way mirror—and participated in cultural experiences like musical entertainment and traditional tea ceremonies. The cost of the trip was covered indirectly through the Chinese government and a non-profit intermediary, Patrick said.
The experiences with Chinese education are helping the district think about global citizenship and cultural competency in all programs, particularly foreign language, which the district is currently studying, he added.
Ana Piquero, the district's foreign language coordinator, described to the board how they viewed language as a vehicle for students to make connections—to their own language and the language they are studying and its culture.
She emphasized to the board that they were looking at ways to increase student responsibility for their own learning and have them look beyond the classroom, the school and surrounding community to the global landscape.
For example, seventh grade language students who are learning to speak, read and write in a foreign language might prepare a welcome packet for an immigrant family or exchange student as an assignment. "It's a more authentic experience knowing your work will have an impact on someone else," said Piquero.
The district also provides an array of extracurricular opportunties for students to experince other cultures—multi-cultural week, the African Heritage Club, International Dance Club, language clubs and ePals program whereby Italian students write and have videoconferencing with their counterparts in Italy, to name a few.
As she gestured to a world maps splotched with color to indicate countries all over the globe in which languages Fox Lane students are learning are spoken, Piquero said, "We are really trying to emphasize to students that the world is theirs."