New London school leaders head to China as part of pilot program
New London — Two school leaders are visiting China this week in a trip expected to lay the groundwork for a program that could earn New London students a dual diploma with a Chinese partner school.
Board of Education President Mirna Martinez and Lou Allen, the retired director of the Science and Technology Magnet High School of Southeastern Connecticut, boarded a flight Sunday on their way to the Suzhou Industrial Park Foreign Language School.
The visit is the official kickoff of the Integrated American Diploma Program that involves a partnership between the students from the Chinese school, STEM Magnet High School and Spiral International, a Vermont-based educational organization that works to promote intercultural learning and exchange programs.
The Chinese school, which is an International Baccalaurete World School in the city of Suzhou in the Jiangsu Province, is paying for the trip. The private school serves Chinese and foreign language students from grades kindergarten through high school. The school's motto is "earnest, diligent & putting knowledge into practice with no boundary."
The pilot program began this summer when 10 students of the Suzhou school traveled to New London, stayed at Mitchell College and participated in a Summer Academic Institute designed to allow them to earn diplomas from both the STEM Magnet High School and their own school.
The Chinese students, who were proficient in conversational English, earned high school credits from taking Introduction to College Writing and U.S. Government classes. They additionally earned college credits from Mitchell College from the college writing course. The U.S. Government class was taken at the STEM Magnet High School.
The diplomas can be earned over two years with participation in two four-week Summer Academic Institutes. A similar model is under development for New London students who would travel to China to earn a either a dual diploma, community service hours or cultural enrichment.
Chinese students stayed at the Mitchell College dormitories and were placed in pairs with host families on weekends, part of the cultural experience important to the program. There were also field trips to colleges and local attractions.
Allen, who was paid by the district to administer the program and is now working as a volunteer, called the program a “great, great experience,” and one that he hopes local students will be able to share in as early as next year.
“I’m excited for what it offers for New London Public Schools in the future. This is a good opportunity for our students,” Allen said.
Martinez said it’s the kind of cultural exchange that will benefit students across disciplines and a program that will enrich the district’s offerings. New London is planned to be an all magnet school district with targeted curriculum for subjects such as STEM and art.
While in China, Allen and Martinez said they plans to visit classes and meet with families of exchange students, prospective exchange students, teachers and administration from the school. Allen said there is already interest in expanding the program to Africa and Italy, where there are partner schools.
School board member Manny Rivera, who initially approved the program in New London while superintendent, said there is a mutual demand for education between China and the U.S. that holds a place separate from the politics of the two countries.
Rivera, who travels frequently to China as part of his consulting work, called the exchange program and trip to China “an incredible opportunity.”
“We want out our kids to be global citizens. We want to have relationships like this. We want to build on this,” Rivera said.
Rivera said there are also potential revenue streams to such a program.
The East Lyme school district has for the past several years has partnered with a school in China in a student exchange program. The school board there, in years past, has discussed the possibility of yearly tuition revenue.
Rivera said the Norwalk school district, where he served as superintendent, has a similar program.
Not everyone is thrilled about the trip.
School board member Jason Catala, upon hearing the news at a recent school board meeting, called it “bothersome,” and argued that the trip should not be taking place.
A frequent critic of the school administration, Catala said he found it inappropriate and was considering filing an ethics complaint on grounds that the trip could unduly influence Martinez’s decision making during a future school board vote related to the program.
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