Their Chinese summer – BCPS students savor a special learning experience

While many of Baltimore County’s 108,000 public school students may be kicking up their heels and taking time to relax as summer begins, 27 of them are immersed – half a world away in Xi’an, China – in the first-hand learning experience of the BCPS Chinese Cultural Exchange Program.

After an excited and emotional farewell from the BCPS Greenwood campus on May 18, the students in this year’s Chinese exchange, along with four county educators, have settled in to their Chinese journey.

That’s meant sampling green bean popsicles, mutton stew and hotpots; learning the ancient arts of tai chi and calligraphy; and fastening small golden padlocks to railings atop a Chinese mountain. Both students and faculty say that the experiences have been amazing.

“On the bus ride into [Xi’an], we passed by the ancient city wall,” wrote Towson High School English teacher Jennifer Meehan in the group’s blog journal. “When I could take my eyes off the architecture, I looked at the kids – every single face was looking out the window, clearly fascinated. That’s, for me, what’s best about the trip – sharing it with the kids and watching their discoveries.

“[We] were talking in the airport about how traveling stretches you in so many incredible ways and how, once you realize what you can do, you're never the same again, and your life is never quite the same again,” she added in the delegation’s first entry. “[Our students] were so excited at the prospect of what’s ahead of them, and I feel really lucky to be a part of the first steps in all of their amazing journeys.”

BCPS has had an exchange program with the Tie Yi School in Xi’an, China, since the 2006-2007 school year. It is now open to students in 12 high schools in all areas of the county, and many participants in the program are now in college studying Chinese language, Asian studies, international business and diplomacy. Three of the five BCPS students who were part of the first group in 2007 have returned to China to study and work there.

While in China, BCPS students have stayed with the families of the Chinese students who visited Baltimore County earlier this year. The BCPS students have attended regular subject classes with their student-hosts as well as special classes in Chinese language, art, cooking, music and physical education.

Chinese is currently taught at five BCPS middle schools and 12 high schools.

While this year’s cohort of students has enjoyed the experience, their thoughts have never strayed far from home – or school. On May 24, Hereford High School senior Robert VanHuizen “attended” his graduation ceremony using Skype and a monitor held by friends and family who were present at the ceremony. While the long-distance graduation had a few glitches, Robert was able to enjoy the moment both with his Chinese family and friends and with his classmates and family back home in Baltimore County.

If you would like to catch up on what our BCPS students and staff are doing during their Chinese stay, visit their blogs at The days are growing short, however – the delegation is scheduled to return to Baltimore County on July 8. And then, we assume, they can finally kick up their heels and relax.

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