In a world that seems to get a little smaller every day, preparing students for a global future is becoming an increasingly important priority.
It is an educational challenge that Apex High School is tackling with a great amount of vigor.
In the last several years, school administrators and teachers have begun fostering a relationship with China that continues to grow stronger.
It began with Apex High Principal Matt Wight visiting the emerging world super power for the first time in 2009. Subsequent visits eventually led to a six-teacher contingent spending three weeks abroad during the summer.
The bond should only strengthen this month as the school prepares for a weeklong visit from 10 Chinese students.
The upcoming interaction between Chinese and American students is something Wight hoped would one day occur when he made that first trip to China nearly four years ago.
“It is very exciting,” said Wight. “We’ve been over there several times but this will be our first student-to-student activity. The world is becoming much smaller. In order to adequately prepare our students it is important that they are exposed to different cultures. Our strong relationship with China will certainly help.”
Wight and former Apex educator Julie Oster began the initial interaction with the Chinese through the Center for International Understanding at the University of North Carolina.
Yet, Wight credits the group of teachers who taught English in China last July for making the biggest strides.
“It’s a challenge forming a relationship,” said Wight. “There is the time difference, a language obstacle and the Chinese firewalls are very robust. The country and the culture are so different. But these teachers really broke the ice as far as I’m concerned. They have been there and they have taught there.
“Those teachers that went said it was a life-changing experience. Having been there as a tourist is one thing but they were actually in the classroom interacting with the kids. As they talk to their peers here at Apex about the experience other teachers are becoming interested. They are intrigued with the idea of going to China.”
Media specialist Leila Moog, who had been to China twice before, led the contingent of educators that included science teachers Mike Muse and Beth Elder, social studies teachers Ashley White and Mary Taylor and English teacher Maria Knall.
Moog’s husband, N.C. State University professor Bob Moog, also accompanied the group.
For two weeks, the group spent more than eight hours a day interacting with high school students near Hangzhou and teaching them conversational English.
The trip, which was arranged by the Global Classroom Alliance, also gave the group several days to visit various sights, including the Great Wall and an ancient Buddhist temple.
“It was a wonderful opportunity to interact with another culture,” said Taylor. “What will stay with me is how much the kids wanted to learn and how well they treated us. We were so welcomed and treated with a great deal of respect.”
“It was amazing, just seeing the kids and their energy for learning our language and our culture,” said White. “That was very memorable. They are shy at first but then they are so expressive with their feelings toward you. They are so respectful and grateful for what we were teaching them. You felt as though you were really making a difference.”
Teaching in a mostly rural area that is rarely visited by Westerners, the group enjoyed experiencing a part of China that few foreigners ever see.
The stark contrasts, as well as the striking similarities, of the two cultures were a source of constant interest to the American visitors.
“It was very interesting, both the similarities and differences in cultures,” said Muse. “They really enjoyed hearing our perspectives on things and they really wanted to learn. They wanted to know about our schools and they were fascinated that our students drive to school.
“One of the major differences we saw is that they live at dorms (starting in) the ninth grade. They also have much more of a focus on math while we have a more rounded curriculum. It was very interesting to look at the differences in the educational set up.”
Of course, being among the very small group of Americans to ever visit that region resulted in some interesting situations.
“We had our own paparazzi wherever we went,” said Muse. “We were at the airport at Sanya and probably had a hundred pictures taken of us before we even got out of the terminal. We were there at night and we were pretty tired so it was fascinating to have so many people taking pictures of you when you are just trying to walk out a door.”
Whenever the group walked along the streets they were sure to gather a following.
“In the evening we would go for a stroll through town and we were quite a sight,” said Edler. “People would be in windows waving to us and taking our pictures. They would bring their children up to us and have them say a few words in English.”
“We felt like celebrities,” said Knall. “We would just walk somewhere and have people asking if they could take our picture.”
Now that administrators and faculty have visited China, Wight would like to have Apex students make the trip.
The tremendous expense involved, however, will probably delay such a sojourn until at least next year.
“There was an opportunity for students to go this spring but we need more time to arrange the trip,” said Wight. “We’d like to have some fundraising events and seek sponsorships so the cost won’t be as prohibitive.”
What began so simply in 2009 with Apex High’s application for a sister school in China has now forged into a strong relationship the holds so many educational opportunities.
It is exactly the kind of multicultural bond needed in today’s world.
“We have a sister school in China but all of this has blossomed into something more than that,” said Moog. “There is so much potential.”