Chinese principal swaps ideas with Umatilla educators

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China’s high standardized test scores have long been held up as something for the United States to aspire to, but Chinese educators feel they have something to learn from American schools, too.

One of those educators, Principal Jianguo Sun from XiAn, China, is visiting Clara Brownell Middle School this week to learn about education in the United States.

Sun said through a translator that he is most looking forward to seeing how American schools foster so much creativity and individuality in their students.

“China’s education is lacking in this area,” he said.

After a Monday morning assembly welcoming him to Umatilla for the week he said he could already see that students in the United States have more freedom at school than Chinese students.

Sun described the schedule of students at his middle school. They arrive at 7:30 a.m. and spend half an hour reading to themselves. They attend four classes in the morning, have a two-hour lunch break and attend three classes in the afternoon. Following their afternoon classes the students have an hour in which to pursue an extra-curricular activity such as choir or basketball; they then return for their evening studies from 5:30 to 7 p.m.

Sun said ninth grade students studying to take their high school entrance exam will often do homework until 11 p.m. And high school seniors preparing to take the all-important gaokao test, which will determine if they will be allowed to attend a university, usually do homework until midnight.

As principal, Sun said he feels pressure to make sure his students score well on exams, but also to provide programs that help his students find happiness at school despite their strict schedules.

“On the one hand the school has to provide a happy environment. On the other hand we are under pressure to help students succeed,” he said. “I have to find the balance.”

Sun said he is looking forward to seeing how schools in Umatilla weigh academics with extracurriculars.

Dianna Veleke, principal of Clara Brownell, is hosting Sun now and will have the opportunity to visit his school in the spring.

She has been studying up on the Chinese education system and said she plans to show him aspects of education here in the United States that are different from China, such as special education classes and after-school robotics teams. Sun also will have a chance to observe classrooms and attend a regional meeting of Eastern Oregon principals.

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 19, 2013, edition of the East Oregonian newspaper with story and photo by reporter Jade McDowell. It has been posted to this website with permission from the East Oregonian.

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