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China trip will broaden horizons for local educators

Six Southern Oregon educators are among 800 U.S. instructors and administrators who will visit China beginning Monday on the Chinese government's tab as part of an effort to promote Chinese culture and language abroad and prepare students for a global economy.

Instructors and staff from Medford's St. Mary's School, a private Catholic school for grades 6 through 12, Ashland High School, Talent Middle School and Southern Oregon University will visit cultural and historical sites and tour Chinese classrooms as part of the Chinese Bridge Delegation trip.

The trip is meant to encourage and provide avenues for educators to offer Chinese language instruction at their institutions, improve instruction about Chinese history and culture and prepare pupils for a global economy in which China will play an increasingly dominant role, said Steve Thorpe, a professor at Southern Oregon University's School of Education in Ashland.

"To be able to teach well about an area, you have to have knowledge of the language and culture," said Thorpe, who is part of the delegation.

The trip is sponsored by the government-affiliated Hanban Chinese Language Council International, the same organization that selected St. Mary's last year as the United States' first Confucius Classroom high school.

St. Mary's receives $50,000 annually for five years from the Chinese agency to pay for the school's Mandarin instructor and to offer free Chinese lessons for the community. St. Mary's is the only school in Jackson County that offers Mandarin.

SOU, in partnership with St. Mary's Confucius classroom, plans to offer beginning Mandarin next year.

The Southern Oregon delegation includes Thorpe, Bill Gabriel, a social studies teacher at Ashland High School; Erin Dickey, a social studies teacher at Talent Middle School; Frank Phillips, St. Mary's School principal; Michelle Tresemer, St. Mary's communication director; and Jim Meyer, St. Mary's assistant principal.

The delegation will visit the Forbidden City, the world's largest palace complex, which dates to 1420, and the Great Wall of China.

Gabriel said having anecdotes from the country he is teaching about makes lessons more interesting and relevant for students.

"There is no substitute for being there," he said.

"There is an interest among students in China, and we are a Pacific Rim state, so there is more interaction," he added.

China is an important figure in the world economy, and Americans must learn about the country and its citizens to know how to interact with them, Thorpe said.

"China is the third largest economy and is rapidly moving up on the Japanese," Thorpe said. "To be cognizant of that is very important."

The educators were selected by the College Board and the National Consortium for Teaching About Asia to go on the trip, which ends June 30.

The group will meet in Beijing and branch out to other provinces as guests of Hanban.

Thorpe, Dickey and Gabriel will visit Xi'an in the Shanghai province, while St. Mary's staff will go to Wuhan in the Hubei Province.

In addition to tourism and lectures on the Chinese language, the educators will visit classrooms to see how instruction is delivered.

And there is a lot to learn.

The Chinese education system is vastly different from that in the United States. For instance, every school is ranked against other schools in China, and every student is ranked within each school, Phillips said.

Hanban also operates the Confucius Institute program, now established in universities worldwide, including Portland State University.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.