By Ryan Pike
Managing Editor for Writing and Reporting
For a long two-week period this past November, Jamesville-DeWitt High School was noticeably different. When students walked in through the main doors that week, they could tell that something was missing. That ‘something’ was Principal Paul Gasparini, who was on the other side of the world partaking in the College Board’s China Bridge program.
The process of getting to China started long before Mr. Gasparini arrived at JFK International Airport for his 13-hour flight to China. The College Board’s program required an application. “I figured you just apply and if you apply you’re in. The College Board said no, no, no, it's a competitive educational process,” Mr. Gasparini explained; “The fact that I was a school leader with a Chinese program and our school is very successful, I think that they find that interesting.” The College Board selected Mr. Gasparini from the applicant pool and covered all but approximately $1,000 of the trip's expenses.
Mr. Gasparini took part in this unique experience in an effort to better J-DHS. The teacher bridge program brings Chinese nationals who majored in English in college to the United States to teach at US schools, which is a logical next step for J-D’s developing Chinese program. “J-D is interested in the ‘teacher bridge program,’” he explained; “I was interested in 'scouting,' if you will, Chinese teachers who knew English.”
J-D’s Chinese program, which started in the 2008-09 school year, has been growing consistently over the years. Throughout J-D Middle School and J-DHS, 99 students are enrolled in the nine sections of Chinese. Three of these sections are co-seated between a basic level course and an honors level course. One teacher, Hing Hsiao, handles all of these courses.
The practices of the Chinese teachers Mr. Gasparini “scouted” were very similar to the ones our own second language teachers use here at J-DHS. Both highly stress the importance of grammar when learning a second language, particularly emphasizing the past tenses.“[It] made me think about whether or not that was the best way to teach a foreign language,” Mr. Gasparini stated; “It’s a question mark. I don’t have an answer for that.”
Mr. Gasparini learned far more on his trip than just about the teacher bridge program and English as a foreign language in another country. He was immersed in the Chinese education system as a whole during his stay. “It’s important to understand that China is a one-party state,” he affirmed; “The Central Party dictates education policy. Schools, therefore, adjust themselves to what the policy goals of the State are.”
These policy goals all fit into a 51-page document created by the government known as “The Outline.” Part of “The Outline” involves spreading Chinese culture and language throughout the world in order to make other countries more open and welcoming towards the nation. “You can call it the new colonialism in some ways,” Mr. Gasparini said; “They’re very clear about the importance of establishing relationships throughout the world and becoming global in their reach.”
Mr. Gasparini also got a crash course in Chinese culture, which he was already well-versed in due to his social studies background. “Culturally, they have a real respect for taking their time, being very precise in their manners and in the way they address one another,” Mr. Gasparini noted; “From a social studies teacher standpoint, it was very interesting.”
Also interesting were the practices of the shopkeepers at the bazaars Mr. Gasparini got to go to. It was a sharp contrast from the “respect” shown by the other Chinese citizens. “The shopkeepers are not at all formal or mannered,” Mr. Gasparini said; “They’re very aggressive in bargaining and haggling.” He purchased a few small souvenirs for his wife and children, including a baseball cap with Chinese lettering on it.
A trip to the bazaars was part of the only downtime Mr. Gasparini experienced in China; the College Board structured the trip down to the final detail. “They kept us going from morning to night,” Mr. Gasparini said. He had an opportunity to chronicle his trip in collaboration with Syracuse.com, which resulted in a handful of blog posts detailing his experience. “Hopefully, I shared some of my insights on there for students and educators here in the United States, or at least in Central New York.”