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'Full cultural immersion' includes cafeteria food, too

Ledyard - Educators from Qingdao, a Chinese city with close to 3 million residents, were at Ledyard High School Tuesday, meeting with students, teachers and administrators to see firsthand how American schools operate.

Superintendent of Schools Michael Graner and five Chinese-American students led the delegation from Qingdao (pronounced "ching dow") on a tour. An hour-long discussion on the difference between the two countries' schools, facilitated by Graner, was followed by lunch from the school cafeteria.

"When I went to China in 2005, you treated me to a very nice restaurant," Graner said. "But we're going to do something different: eat from our cafeteria. It's full cultural immersion."

The Chinese group, led by Jin Keshou, deputy director of the Qingdao Education Bureau, said one of the biggest differences between the Chinese and American school systems was that the American students had more freedom in class selection and were able to take classes that would prepare them for both further academic study and a professional career.

"Another important point [we noticed] is the number of important career-based classes and the regular academic classes," Keshou said through a translator. "But in China, it is separate. There are professional schools and academic schools."

Dan Gregg, a retired official from the state Department of Education who was at Ledyard High for the visit, said governance is a major difference between the Chinese centralized education system and America's, which is run from the local level. He said that both countries have borrowed ideas from one another, with the United States moving toward more testing and Chinese schools considering allowing more academic freedom.

"The Chinese system is trying to be like the older American system," before testing became the norm, Gregg said. "And the American system is trying to be more like the Chinese system. We're all trying to find ways to reform, to do things best."

Graner took time to showcase the multicultural nature of American schools, and Ledyard's schools in particular. He said that the five students who helped guide the visitors - sophomores Xiao Chen and Jia Qi Zhou and freshmen Lucy Zhang, Minnie Zhang (they are not related) and Qiuyin Ren - were just part of the diverse school setting.

"In our student body, you'll see students who come from many nationalities, students who are very rich, students who are not very rich," he said. "But the important thing is that everyone comes to school together here."

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