By David Luces
It was a case of east meets west as a delegation of Chinese educators visited the Port Jefferson School district Jan. 15 to experience and learn about the American education system.
Port Jefferson School District was one of two school district chosen to be toured by the Chinese educators. The trip, organized in part by Stony Brook University, had the delegation from the Anhui province in China take a tour of the district and witness interactive lessons inside its classrooms.
“I think this is a wonderful opportunity for educators from another country to come in and see how we do things here,” Christine Austen, the Principal of Earl L. Vandermeulen High School said “This is unique because of the size of the school and the scope of our educational program.”
The Chinese educators, accompanied by three Mandarin translators, were welcomed to the school with the school’s orchestra playing Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.” On a tour of the high school the group visited a chorus classroom where they caught a glimpse of students beginning to warm up their vocal cords, then later took a tour of the high school gym facilities. In between spots the educators were able to ask some students about their experiences in the Port Jeff school district.
Austen said the educators may have seen things that they haven’t observed in other school districts.
“We take a lot of pride in the school district,” Austen said. “We want to show our students that we are open to having these conservations and we are welcoming to everyone.”
Superintendent Paul Casciano said the district had an important responsibility when it came to showcasing American education to the delegation.
“Their impression of the American education system will be based on what they’ve seen and learned [here],” Casciano said.
In September, the district joined in an Educational Leadership Program with Stony Brook with some high school teachers. The program offers courses to prepare educators for advancement in position such as superintendent and principal.
Craig Markson, the director of the Educational Leadership Program at Stony Brook University said the Office of Global Affairs has a collaborative relationship with principals of schools in the Anhui province of China. The educators wanted to visit the United States to see how the American educational system works.
The superintendent said the district set up the date and time with the Chinese delegation back in December.
“It forced us to be introspective and I think that’s really healthy.”
— Paul Casciano
“We already had a relationship and connection with the university,” Casciano said. “Markson contacted me about the planned trip and they were looking for schools to visit.”
The superintendent said for two weeks before the visit they asked themselves what made the school district so special and what the
students and teachers might learn from the experience.
“It forced us to be introspective and I think that’s really healthy,” the superintendent said. “It’s a small snapshot — only a couple of hours — we only get to see the short-term impacts of something like this. We don’t even know what the long-term effects will be.”
Though the two districts have cultural differences, Markson said they both share a common goal.
“One thing that we all have in common is trying to prepare our children to meet the demands of a 21st century economy,” Markson said. “So we are learning from each other.”
Austen said she’s excited to learn later how the delegation used what they learned in Port Jeff back in Anhui province.
“I can’t wait to hear what they have to say — I’ve never been to a school in another country, so this is an opportunity to gain knowledge on how they do things,” Austen said. “Everyone can learn from one another.”