Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Some of the impressions and reflections of our school visits in Chongqing are provided by the Arlington Heights group in the movie below (The movie may take time to buffer and begin). These comments are only a small part of the education we received on this trip, and only a glimpse into the amazing sights we witnessed. We all believe that the friendships and insights we acquired are lasting and important.

For my part, I found the people we met, inside the schools and out, to be warm and friendly, interested in Americans, and open to our ideas and thoughts. The teachers impressed us with their enthusiasm and passion. Their hopes and dreams for their students were the same as ours, and their dedication to their profession was extremely evident. The high expectations which they bring to their classrooms seemed to result in high student proficiency in many arenas and the students exhibited great pride in their accomplishments, their school, and their culture. The teachers we met seem to be serious about working toward a worthwhile exchange between our schools that will benefit the students of both countries, and help to show our students what living in a global world is all about!

chongquing from idelle melamed on Vimeo.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


 While we were in Chongqing, Beijing had torrential storms which cooled the city and gave us clear blue skies and a cooler day for our final touring. First stop, The Temple of Heaven, also called the Altar of Heaven, an ancient and beautiful circular palace set in a serene park with acres of flowers and blossoming trees. The temple was used by the Emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties for annual ceremonies of prayer to Heaven for good harvest. The day we visited it was crowded with Chinese residents as well as people from all over the world.

Next we boarded busses for Hutong a five story department store within which was a pearl market as well as a floor full of electronics, one for luggage and purses, a floor for scarves, clothing etc. The mantra for Hutong is Negotiate! Bargain! Do not take the price as first stated!

Our final dinner in Beijing was the famous Peking Duck complete with a tutorial on how to assemble a proper Peking duck pancake! After dinner saw the Kongfu Show, a fascinating combination of martial arts, gymnastics and amazing athletic abilities with a story told in English, with Mandarin subtitles!

The next morning, before transport to the airport for home, I walked over to the Beijing Zoo to see the Giant Pandas, and take one final picture with Ling Ling.

Arlington Heights - ready for our last day in China

Monday, June 27, 2011


Before returning to Beijing, we convened at the Chongqing Planning Exhibition Gallery in a modern meeting room with projection screens and television cameras. Becky Fitzgerald, principal at Olive Mary-Stitt, a teacher from Lake Forest and a superintendent from a Utah school district were asked to appear on a panel to speak about our American impressions of Chongqing and its schools. Three Chinese education ministers spoke about their goals for this exchange with American teachers. Mrs. Fitzgerald spoke on behalf of the Arlington Heights and Michigan groups about how warm a welcome we received, how impressed we were with the schools and the student performances, the many similarities we found, and our hopes for further communication with our new friends. We were provided with earphones through which we received simultaneous translation of the Mandarin speakers. After the panel, the audience of Chinese and American teachers and administrators asked questions and exchanged cards and contact information. Some of the questions and suggestions related to character education in America, our emphasis on differentiation, and ways in which we can use technology to connect our students.
Back in Beijing we convened with the entire group of 150 teachers and administrators to report on our regional visits and impressions of each of the five host provinces. Our Arlington Heights and Michigan group was represented once again by Mrs. Fitzgerald who was asked to speak on our behalf. Our group had worked with Mrs. Fitzgerald to create a powerpoint presentation the previous evening, when we recorded impressions from several of the members of our group and added some video and photos. Although the video we had included did not work, the presentation by Mrs. Fitzgerald was professional, interesting, and well received. We were also happy to hear and view the reports from other regions. In many cases our ideas regarding differences and similarities between the schools we visited and our own schools were echoed by the groups who visited other places in China. We all agreed that the teachers and administrators we had met here in China were dedicated to their students, and were passionate and proud of their schools. All the teachers, including our AH group, were eager to bring the ideas and impressions from this exchange to our home schools and to our students. We were all grateful for this special and unique opportunity to visit schools and meet contemporaries and peers from a different culture across the world.

Sunday, June 26, 2011


 Our Chongqing guides were proud to show us some of the highlights of the region in addition to the school visits. The ancient town of Ciquiko is a protected cultural historical site. It lies about 30 minutes from the modern city of Chongqing, and is thought to be the original settlement in the area, going back more than 1700 years. During the Ming and Qing Dynasties it was famous for its production of porcelain. Today it is a used as a wonderful market of ethnic crafts and regional food delicacies. The stands and shops are on the original slate squares and under original wooden beams all along charming alleyways and crooked lanes. We shopped and enjoyed the ambience along with other tourists from around the world and many Chinese families.
This imaginary animal statue is from the Han Dynasty
 and stands outside of the Three Gorges Museum

Back in Chongqing we toured The Three Gorges Museum dedicated to the anthropological history of this region, which dates back over 3,000 years. We saw exhibits on the first evidence of man in the region, early crafts, weapons and housing, and watched a 3-D movie about the building of the Three Gorges Dam.

Finally we were treated to a tour of the Yangtze riverfront(pictured below) where people walk nightly among the new bridges and construction sprouting at every turn.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Hot Pot Lunch!

Mrs. Fitzpatrick and Ling Ling enjoy our hot pot lunch.
Several teachers, the vice principal, principal and an interpreter accompanied us to a very special lunch - hot pot! Hot pot is considered a speciality of the region and the teachers were hopeful we would enjoy - which we did! For the hot pot, we were offered many platters of vegetables, meat and fish, some we recognized and some that were less familiar, and a variety of spices, to cook in our own pot. I did my new food of the day - and tried octopus. With the right spices and boiled in a hot pot - not bad. The lunch was additional time to get to know our new friends and talk about how we might connect during the school year. One subject that the teachers asked us about was our PTA. They had heard that parents are very involved in our schools and were interested to hear their contribution. We told them some of the many ways that parents are invaluable to our schools and they told us that in China there is nothing like this type of involvement. It is an aspect of the American system they would like to emulate.


Day 4
At the primary school (1st-6th grades), students greeted us outside, lined up and chanting "Welcome to our school" in English, of course. Each one cuter then the next, boys on one side, girls on the other. Blue skirts or shorts, white shirt and red scarf tied around their necks. The school, like the one yesterday, is built up - 7 floors but this one uses its ground floor as an open courtyard for P.E. and recess. It has a track around it and is covered by the upper floor so students can be outside even when it is raining, which is often. Extremely clever use of space. No playground equipment such as we are used to but in addition to the track, there were pingpong tables, basketball hoops and we later saw the students jump rope and play a sort of hacky sack game with a shuttlecock.

The highest floors are for the older students but everyone uses the stairs but there was a small elevator offered to us. The rooms and halls are sparsely but well appointed and the classrooms have bright blue desks with hooks to hold backpacks. The hallways are filled with student art or projects, as in our schools, although there was little evidence of computer produced work. I asked one teacher if the best projects are those put on display and she said yes, “because that way all students will strive to do as well.”

Each classroom has an Epson ceiling mounted projector but no smart boards or mimeo and we did not see many computers in the classroom. However there was a computer lab with 50 computers (could not tell the make but not Mac) because many of the classes have 40-50 students. The teachers said students access websites for English language practice and also learn powerpoint and Word. We also toured a science lab and finally a library (called a reading room) with pamphlets, magazines and newspapers in racks around the room. Actual books were in a connecting room which looked like it was more for teachers use not browsing by students. I did not get the impression talking to the "librarian" through an interpreter that the students read a lot of fiction independently. She told me students had assigned books for book reports, a few each year, but no requirement for independent reading for pleasure. We also visited a first grade classroom and the students chanted for us again. In the passing periods students would wave at us or run by us, acting very much like our students would. I brought the kindergarten mascot, Ling Ling with me and she was a big hit with the first graders!

After our tour came the performances - which took place on a stage placed outside in the courtyard. There were two traditional dances in costume, a drum performance and then three girls on traditional Chinese instruments, which Mrs. Sexton and Mr. Schultz tried out! It was all terrific. Next our group was asked to come up to the stage and say a few words to the students about our impressions (through an interpreter). Students presented each of us with a red scarf to match theirs, a lei for the women, a framed papercut design and a hand painted wood spoon made by students.

Friday, June 24, 2011


Our Arlington Heights group took a walk in the neighborhood around our hotel after dinner, happening on the huge public“People’s Square” that had held tai chi movement that morning. This evening it was lit up and brimming with people; many different groups, men and women, families, old and young, dancing - a kind of a cross between a folk dance and aerobics with several variations. Apparently someone brings music and anyone can start dancing with them. We jumped into one group and tried it - even me! Everyone was friendly and welcoming to us. And all on a Wednesday night at 9 pm!

It was a great scene which the photos do not do justice. We all concluded that for many of these families, the dancing in the square was both healthy exercise and a way to beat the heat instead of sitting in a small apartment that is not air-conditioned, which may be the situation for many of these Chongqing residents. We are finding air - conditioning is quite the premium even in this very hot climate, reserved for luxury hotels and maybe the new office buildings. The schools we visited had fans and open air windows in many areas.

 When we left the People’s Square we wandered the smaller streets. We were a pretty big group of Americans - three men and five women so we did attract some attention: a lot of smiles and hellos! We passed many open shops and street vendors. It was a very fascinating mix- A modern store selling bright colored athletic shoes (adidas etc.) next to an open market selling fruit, nuts and a man cutting open watermelons, next to that was a hot pot restaurant. Everything was open for business and the streets were full of people on foot, bike and cars zoomed by as well. People were shopping, and also sitting and talking and playing a game that looked like Mahjong. We wound our way back to the hotel without a problem, happy we had the chance to soak in a little of real life.

Chongqing Experimental School

Our first school visit was to Chongqing Experimental School - a junior high that has been open since 1998. It is a progressive school and hard to get into - with good grades or possibly money. Students come from both the countryside and the city. It has won many education awards and the staff is very proud. Because it is a city school it is built 6 stories up. It is covered with lush green vines the students take care of. As we drove up boys were peaking out of the windows and waving!

Our agenda for the visit included a meeting with the principal, then visits to music class, paper cutting, calligraphy and finally, physical education. We were disappointed not to view any academic classes. First, the principal, with an interpreter, guided us through a powerpoint presentation on the philosophy of the school. Also present were the English teachers from the school, an official photographer and the teacher in charge of "moral education" - which we found out means discipline. The school code includes 6 pillars of spirit: respect, enthusiasm, self-confidence, grateful heart, desire to do better, and a good state of mind (calm and humble when receiving rewards). Before leaving to tour classrooms, we presented a few gifts we had brought from home to the principal, including books on Illinois and the prairie, wild rice, Sacagawea coins and cloth recycling bags.

In the hallways we noticed many quotes from Confucius which we were told translated to messages relating to working hard, cooperation and staying humble. While visiting the classes, the teachers encouraged us to try papercutting, which we did, and calligraphy, and ping pong. I did better with Ping pong then papercutting! Apparently the school is very good at ping pong and its teams compete in Singapore and Taiwan. The students were all extremely polite, quiet and smiling and many tried to speak to us in English, which was limited but certainly better than our Mandarin!

The principal of Chongqing Experimental School
and Mrs. Sexton from Greenbrier School
After the students left school, around 5 p.m, the principal, several teachers and an interpreter accompanied us to dinner where we were able to further discuss similarities and differences in our schools, our jobs and education systems. We discovered that although their day in school is seemingly much longer, it contains a 1 1/2 - 2 hour break for homework, rest and games, so the actual classroom time is not that different. The homework and number of tests and proficiency tests at the end of the year was a more striking difference. We also discovered that all administrators teach a class so that they remain connected to the students. The Chinese teachers were also interested in how often our students receive Mandarin instruction. Their students begin English language study in 3rd grade. They told us that students find English difficult to learn but they believe it is very very important and so do the parents in the community. We discussed how English is taught and found out they use some online learning.

Arlington Heights teachers and administrators with
our counterparts at Chongqing Experimental School
Our time with these teachers was very enjoyable and amiable and everyone agreed we would try to continue communication during the school year in ways that might excite our students and aide their foreign language acquisition.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Welcome to Chongquing

Day 3

In Chongquing we are staying in a beautiful hotel next to the People’s Great Hall and People’s Square, a lovely large public space which seems to have constant movement - groups of people practicing tai chi in the mornings and all types and ages of people dancing in the evenings. (more about that later) Chongqing feels like a newer city than Beijing, at least one that is very much in transition from old to new. Green mountains surround it and that is where there is more industry and mining. The river winds through the city with many new bridges and modern tall buildings under construction, but interspersed with streets that have old-fashioned open markets and more traditional homes. The climate is sub tropical! It was 101° when we landed yesterday at 5 pm and it rains every day. The trees and greenery are lush and thick.

On our first morning in Chongqing our Arlington Heights group met at 9:30 am with our Hanban leader, Dr. Ruhui Ni, to prepare for the day and talk about our goals for this trip. At 10 am the teachers and administrators from Chongqing Central District arrived and we adjourned to a banquet room for a Welcome Ceremony! Beautiful tables and adorable children greeted us. We each sat with a few Chinese teachers and principals and watched a performance of cultural dance and a girls and boys choir singing in Mandarin. The students were wonderful and clearly proud to be performing for us. Next there were welcome speeches, some in English and others through an interpreter, and finally a formal presentation of gifts. Each school in our District will receive a group of Mandarin books for use in our school program. Then the food began and more food and more food and more. We have all been eating with chopsticks since arriving in China and I am getting better with them though still not great. However our Chinese counterparts were impressed with our efforts. I have also been trying to eat one new food each day and today I tried two: swallow and crocodile!

Through lunch we talked to the Chinese teachers at our table and exchanged information about the length of the school day and school year and amount of homework students are given. They were surprised at the freedom our schools have to design curriculum and that there is not a Ministry of Education that governs our complete curriculum.

Cloisonne Factory and Trip to Chonquing

The Cloisonne Factory was our next stop: providing us a fascinating close up look at how this beautiful technique is accomplished, and a chance to purchase jewelry, vases, and other unique artifacts.

Finally we boarded a China Air jet to travel to our host city, Chongqing, located in the central and western part of China along the Yangtze River.Chongqing, a port city and commercial center, is considered the largest municipality in the world with a jurisdiction of 40 districts and counties. With an area of 82,400 square kilometers (31, 800 square miles), Chongqing is a famous 'mountain city' and the area in which the Three Gorges Dam is located. It is also known as “river city” and “bridge capital”. The Han form the majority of its total population of 28.8 million, but their are additional ethnic groups in Chongqing, including Yi, Tibetan, Miao, Qiang, You and Tujia. There are 13.3 thousand schools in the Chongqing region of various kinds (about 9,000 primary and secondary) with a total enrollment of 5.97 million students.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Day 2 Our second day began with a memorable visit to The Great Wall of China.The Great Wall of China is a series of stone and earth fortifications built originally to protect the northern borders of the Chinese Empire against intrusions by various invaders. Archeologists believe the entire Great Wall, with all of its branches, stretches for 8,851.8 km (5,500.3 mi). 
 We traveled out of Beijing into the mountains to the Juyongguan Pass. This pass served as a natural barrier to the capital of Yuan from 1271-1368 and Ming Dynasties from 1368-1644. The first emperor of the Ming Dynasty, ordered the pass to be rebuilt to protect the borders from intrusions of the Mongolian tribe. Many fierce battles were fought in Juyongguan Pass of the Great Wall. Our group (and Ling Ling) climbed from one embattlement to the next, admiring the beauty of the ancient steps and green mountains around us. And Ling Ling accompanied us everywhere!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Confucius Institute

Next we boarded the busses for The Confucius Institute headquarters. The Institute in Beijing includes a hands on museum with exhibits on the six major ethnic regions of China, including costumes, musical instruments and crafts. In the evening we were treated to an elegant reception and dinner at the Beijing Hotel banquet hall. A mature and highly talented middle school student orchestra played Chinese classical music. We were welcomed by officials from the Confucius Institute and representatives from the host provinces with speeches and good food.
Our Arlington Heights group, interpreters
and guides at the Confucius Institute


After the morning conference, and tea break, we boarded busses for the Forbidden City. The Forbidden City is located in the very center of Beijing and was the Imperial Palace for 24 emperors during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Our guide took us through the immense space with hundreds of stories about the architecture, the meaning of the animal statues that guard it, and the many different emperors that called it home. It was an amazing tour but hot! The Forbidden City seems miles long from beginning to end with three entry gates and three huge squares/plazas to proceed through before you are in the inner sanctum! It is the world’s largest palace complex and surrounded by a 10 meter high wall. It has been the Palace Museum to the public since 1950. We also saw Tiananmen Tower, The Monument to the People's Heroes, Great Hall of the People, and Mao Zedong Memorial Hall in Tiananmen Square. Accompanying me is Ling Ling, the stuffed panda mascot of Mrs. Heisler’s kindergarten class.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Overview of our Mission and Assignments

Day 1 On the first morning of the program we met with 150 teachers and administrators from over six states for a presentation on the mission of the Hanban/Confucius Institute, and an overview of the Chinese education system by Dr. Zhao Jianzhong. The mission is to expand the culture and language of China to countries of the world, and create a "bridge" from China to the world through schools. The presentation included a comprehensive and forthright explanation of the current state of the Chinese education system, goals for the future, and similarities and differences to the U.S. system. We learned that China provides 9 years of compulsory free education for all. Public school education follows a 6-3-3 model: 1st - 6th grade, 3 years of junior high school and 3 years of senior high school. Currently over 25% of students go on to higher education (University education) and the goal is to increase to 70% by 2020. 20% of Chinese students study abroad and China was ranked #1 last year in sending students to U.S. colleges. There are national education standards but provinces are allowed to submit their own curriculum and textbooks for approval. Only the Shanghai province has done so and they have some of the best schools in China.
Our Arlington Heights group, along with teachers from Michigan,
and Lake Forest, were assigned to the host province of Chongqing

Dr. Jianzhong also told us the reforms for the future include a shift away from the current “teacher directed” and “rote textbook learning” for exams with the main emphasis on test scores, to learning that is more hands on and aimed at the 21st century skills of independent learning, problem solving, and critical thinking. They are also trying to move toward more flexibility and diversity in their curriculum in the different areas of China, and more local control, something they believe the U.S. does well. Our Arlington Heights group discussed later that we were all interested to learn that the goals for students expressed here were very similar to those we strive for in America, as were the skills we both believe are necessary for our students to thrive as they mature. A major challenge for China is to ensure equal access to quality education across its vast nation. Again we felt the United States has a similar challenge.