Program promises Beijing-Hoosick Falls exchange

Monday December 24, 2012


Staff Writer

HOOSICK FALLS, N.Y. -- A planned foreign exchange between Beijing and Hoosick Falls should prove eye-opening for high school students on both ends.

The program could bring up to 20 senior-level students from China to Hoosick Falls Central School beginning in the 2013-2014 school year, although following local school board approval last week the next hurdle remains finding adequate housing.

"This is only a benefit," said Superintendent Kenneth Facin, addressing school board members last Thursday. Calling the cultural exchange mutually beneficial, he said the program made both monetary and cultural sense for the district.

"It's exciting to even have the conversation," Facin said Friday. The opportunity first arose in discussions with Jason Wang, an educational consultant for HFCS affiliated with the host school in China that was looking for senior-level studies in the U.S.

Board members on Thursday spoke to the benefits of the cross-cultural connection. "This is intellectual, smart, communicative," listed board member David Sutton. Board member John Helft said Hoosick Falls was "pretty isolated" in terms of diversity, and he pointed to recent class trips abroad (including to China last spring) that he said had opened students' eyes.

Board member Donald Skott expressed reservation, saying he was not as excited and describing the exchange in his opinion as "trying to educate someone who's our kids' competition." Board member Laurie Gormley said there was that component, but she opined the program would made HFCS students better prepared to compete.

"In addition," she continued, "there's also a ‘working together' piece. ... (This is a) great opportunity to expose our kids to that." Skott said he saw both sides.

While the Chinese educational system is known for producing students with strong science and math skills, Facin said Friday there was now a push there toward innovation -- the "creative advantage" popularly seen as a trait in the American school system.

"We try to mirror them, and they try to mirror us," he said; the best education being "a combination of both." While foreign Asian students have populated U.S. colleges and universities, those home countries are now interested in "getting students acclimated sooner to that type of education system," according to Facin.

Following a walk-through of HFCS in September with Chinese representatives from the participating Beijing school system, administrators worked by email over the months cross-referencing coursework and aligning transcripts and credits.

On Thursday, school board members approved a three-year contract with DK Education, a company based in Beijing's suburban Haidian District specializing in test preparation and international exchanges. Skott opposed the motion.

The agreement is nonbinding and now dependent on local housing for interested Chinese students, who could find themselves either with host families or in dormitory-style quarters owned by their home district.

Exchange students will pay district tuition for the year and receive all instruction in English, although plans are for special education teacher Kuan Chan to offer adult classes for staff covering conversational Mandarin.

Ultimately, the long-term goal is to also offer local students the opportunity to learn Mandarin, culminating in a year abroad in China.

"This is in its infancy," Facin said, addressing both the local effort and the broader goal of high school exchanges. Public school districts in western Michigan are currently working on their own exchange with another Chinese school consortium.

The approved agreement is for a three-year period from July 1, 2013 through June 30, 2016. The program should be either cost-neutral or positive, with any revenue going toward enhancing local curriculum according to Facin. Administrators are expected to tour the corresponding school system in China next summer.

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