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East Lyme Middle School students to head to China to visit 'sister school'

East Lyme — For the past two years, groups of students at East Lyme Middle School have collaborated on research projects, exploring the environment and energy as a global issue, with students from China.

The students used Skype and an online platform to communicate with their counterparts in a time zone with a 12-hour difference. 

This year, a group of East Lyme students will have the opportunity to meet the Chinese students "face to face." 

Fifteen East Lyme students, accompanied by parent chaperones, three teachers, and their principal, will visit their "sister school" in Guangzhou, China, and also tour Beijing during a trip from Oct. 27 to Nov. 4.

The field trip to China comes as East Lyme's high school and middle school have been partnering over the last several years with Xiang Jiang Secondary School in Guangzhou under an agreement facilitated by SPIRAL International.

The students will first travel by plane to Beijing. They're scheduled to visit the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, and the Summer Palace. They'll hike part of the Great Wall — and slide down an aluminum slide. 

"It's just an experience they will never forget — ever," said East Lyme Middle School Principal Judy DeLeeuw. 

After Beijing, the students will take a plane to Guangzhou, where they will spend time at Xiang Jiang Secondary School. They'll take classes on Mandarin and writing Chinese characters, play badminton, and participate in morning exercises.

Students from East Lyme and Guangzhou will together work on research projects on the stock market. The projects, aligned with the Common Core State Standards, involve writing, reading, math, and information technology, said DeLeeuw.

DeLeeuw said the students will remember the experience for their entire life, from the history and the culture to the food and the 13-hour plane ride to Beijing and the 16-hour plane ride back from Guangzhou to the United States.

"I think these are going to be memories that the students will have forever, and also I think they are going to be excited about the friendships, and the people that they meet because everybody is so nice there," she said.

Fifteen students from East Lyme Middle School, who will be eighth-graders during the 2016-17 year, applied to go on the trip, she said. The trip, including travel, lodging and food, costs $3,200 for each student and chaperone.

The students will begin the research projects during the upcoming school year in East Lyme and also learn about the history of the sites they are scheduled to visit before departing for China, said DeLeeuw. They are also expected to give a presentation about their trip when they return to East Lyme.

The trip will also enable the East Lyme Middle School students to meet some of the students from China who may study in East Lyme in the future, said DeLeeuw.

Under a Sino-American Education Cooperative Program under development since 2013, East Lyme High School welcomed a group of tuition-paying students from China during the 2015-16 school year. Some staff from the East Lyme school district have received stipends, not paid for by the school district, to advise their counterparts in Guangzhou.

Another group of students from China — eight freshmen — will attend East Lyme High School this upcoming school year, said Superintendent of Schools Jeffrey Newton.

Emily Guo, the president of SPIRAL International, said the misison of her Vermont-based company, which was instrumental in planning the trip, is to bridge America and China through international education and exchange. She said by email that the cooperative program is helping Xiang Jiang Secondary School develop an educational program modeled on East Lyme High School's academic structure, curriculum, and Common Core State Standards.

Administrators and teachers from Xiang Jiang Secondary School have visited East Lyme, and East Lyme teachers and administrators have visited Guangzhou to demonstrate classes and provide leadership training. The travel expenses for the trainings are not paid for by the East Lyme school district, under the contract.

Up to 10 tuition-paying students from China study each year at East Lyme High School, she said.

DeLeeuw has visited China three times, with different teachers, to train administrators and students at the school in Guangzhou, as part of the program.

DeLeeuw said she has seen that East Lyme Middle School teachers learn by sharing their expertise with teachers in Guangzhou and that the teachers continue to communicate after the trips. One East Lyme teacher planned a lesson with a teacher in Guangzhou in which students from both countries together solved a math problem.  

DeLeeuw pointed out that experiencing a culture in person is different than reading about it.

She embraced the opportunity to bring together East Lyme Middle School students and Chinese students to collaborate on research projects.

"We have a lot of experiences we can give our students here in East Lyme that they'll remember forever, and it'll help them open their eyes to maybe travel more, or maybe see what other cultures are doing and have more awareness of what goes on in the world around them," she said.

 k.drelich@theday.com

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