District officials, board members hope to learn something new in China

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comOctober 29, 2013 

Beaufort County School District officials are going on a field trip next week -- a long field trip.

Five representatives from Beaufort County schools will travel Nov. 5 to 15 to Beijing and through China's Anhui Province, touring schools, meeting with teachers and observing classrooms.

"I'm really excited for the trip because I do have other colleagues that have visited China before and have looked at their educational programs and come back with different ideas and thoughts," said superintendent Jeffrey Moss, who will be going on the trip.

Also on the trip will be chief human resources officer Alice Walton, board members Geri Kinton and Mary Cordray, and Hilton Head Island Elementary School assistant principal Donald Clendaniel.

The trip comes as part of the district's partnership with the College Board, a nonprofit education organization, and Hanban, an institution affiliated with the Chinese government that provides Chinese-language and cultural-teaching resources worldwide.

The two groups have helped the district find native Chinese speakers to teach Mandarin Chinese to students at Hilton Head Island and Broad River elementary schools since the program began in 2010.

Last year, Mandarin classes were added at Robert Smalls Middle, Hilton Head Middle and Hilton Head High schools as part of Project CLIMB, which stands for Critical Language Initiative in Mandarin in Beaufort. District spokesman Jim Foster said this program aims to develop students who are fluent in English and Mandarin Chinese.

Flights from Savannah to Newark, N.J. represent the only expense not covered by Hanban. Those flights are being paid for with grant money received by the district.

Beaufort County educators have made similar trips in recent years, but this year marks the first that will take board members to China. Kinton and Cordray are going because the districts they represent include schools with language-immersion programs.

"I think it is the leadership that needs to go in to get that first-hand knowledge and experience," Kinton said, "so they can take it back to their buildings and we take it back to the board and say, 'How we can implement this to bring the most benefit to the district and make our teachers the most effective?' "

She is particularly eager to observe the relationships between students, teachers and administrators and learn what makes them so successful, Kinton added.

According to the Program for International Student Assessment, students in Hong Kong and Shanghai outranked U.S. students in literacy, math and science assessments in 2009, the most recent data available. The 2012 assessment results will be available in December.

Moss agreed that the trip will be a good opportunity to understand potential new methods of instruction.

"When you look at the world rankings, China is definitely up there," he said. "So it's always good to see something different from what you're accustomed to seeing."

District chief instructional services officer Dereck Rhoads, who went on the trip last year, said he hopes the district can make this an annual trip for as long as it is beneficial.

He said he thinks this year will be especially important for the trip because of the current conversations in the district. This program may be something to consider for the new elementary school to be built on Davis Road in Bluffton, he said.

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

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