About 35 educators from China crowded into Whitehall Elementary’s library on Oct. 17, excitedly taking pictures of the Bowie school’s principal while offering him Chinese good-luck charms and handbooks from their own schools.
Chinese educators toured the school as part of a three-week University of Maryland, College Park, educator training program, said Lei Bao, coordinator for UM’s China Maryland Initiative.
The group consisted of Chinese principals, vice principals and members of bureaus of education — the equivalent of boards of education.
“The goal is to help them improve their own schools. They want to find out the differences and see if any of the differences can be applied in China,” Bao said.
The group also will tour Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt on Oct. 24 and has toured two schools in Montgomery County and Washington, D.C., she said.
The program launched last year after funding was secured from the Chengdu school district in China, the program’s sole sponsor, Bao said.
In August 2012, a group of Prince George’s County principals visited schools in China, said Jeffrey Holmes, principal of Dwight D. Eisenhower Middle School in Laurel, who went on the China visit and was present at this year’s Whitehall Elementary tour.
Whitehall Elementary has been spotlighted because the school is Prince George’s most recent recipient of national and state Blue Ribbon awards, recognizing private and public schools for high student achievement, said Hui Liu, a Maryland China Initiative intern who served as a translator during the visit.
“We thought it would be a fruitful experience for them,” Liu said. “Lecturers at the University of Maryland talked about Blue Ribbon schools, so now they get to actually see a Blue Ribbon school.” During a discussion with Whitehall Principal Jerenze Campbell prior to the tour, Chinese educators asked how the school’s administration and teachers engage students.
“We make sure all of our teachers truly care about each and every student so their work continues past their call of duty,” Campbell said. “Once a child knows that you care about them, they’ll do amazing things for you.”
Campbell’s response was met with some confusion by Chinese educators, who asked Campbell how he tests for teacher devotion.
Campbell said he quizzes teachers during regular meetings on how well they know their students, such what their favorite sport is or how many student recitals a teacher has attended.
Hong Duan, an education board supervisor in the city of Wuhan, China, said what struck her was how happy the students seemed and how easily they learned.
“The teacher loves the student. The student is very happy,” Duan said through a translator. “We feel students here learn really easy. It’s not that hard for them.”
Liu said the biggest difference between Chinese and American elementary schools is how the teachers teach.
“In America, the teacher first instructs the class as a whole, then they work in subgroups. In China, teachers [only] address students as a whole,” Liu said, adding classes in China also have up to 40 students, with one teacher and no aides.
Classes at Whitehall Elementary average 25 students, with one teacher and multiple aides, depending on the students’ needs, Campbell said.
Liu said the Chinese educators will take away some important lessons from Whitehall.
“I think they would incorporate small group discussion and student engagement,” she said. “‘Student engagement’ is a key [phrase] in our discussion.”