The Press Newspaper

Toledo, Ohio & Lake Erie

The Press Newspaper

The Press Newspaper

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Eastwood Superintendent Brent Welker said “there was a buzz at the middle school Monday morning in anticipation of the arrival of several exchange students from China.”

Eleven Chinese students, ages 12 to 13, will attend classes and participate in activities throughout the area for three weeks. It is the first time Eastwood has had middle school exchange students. They were joined by Chinese teacher and chaperone Liping Niu, who likes learning to speak the English language and vacationing with family. She is staying with the Dennis family.

On Tuesday, the school held a pep rally to introduce the Chinese youngsters to the student body. Each student received an Eastwood Eagles t-shirt and tote bag.

Chinese3
Chinese middle school students with their mentors in front of Eastwood Middle School. (Photo courtesy of Valerie Virag)

On Wednesday, they were taken to Maumee Bay State Park. This week, they will be introduced at a board meeting and their visit will conclude with a ceremony on Jan. 31, which will also be attended by Chinese school administrators.

The Chinese contingent was brought here through the work of Valerie Virag, regional director for American Cultural Exchange Service (ACES). Virag operates out of her home in Oregon, Ohio, where she overseas scholarship arrangements for foreign exchange students arriving from 56 countries.

“They hook people up here and they have connections all over in Europe, and China, and all over the world. They bring students over here for high school exchange, which is all year round, or for this, which is just a couple weeks,” Eastwood Middle School Principal John Obrock said.

They are not only taking classes, they are being tested. Some of the students found themselves taking tests with their American counterparts the first week they arrived.

“They are participating in school classes every day, not just observing,” Virag said. “We told them they are being graded on their participation and their English skills. They will even participate in some of the sports, too. They are participating in practices, which I think is amazing.

“Their host families have just been so warm and wonderful to them, and just nurturing them like they were their own children. You could not ask for better families to take them under their wings.”

The 11 students are Jinhaochong Wang, age 12, (likes calligraphy, table tennis, chess; hosted by Schuerman family; student mentors are Emma and Nick); Yuyan Kang, 12, (basketball drawing, skating; Dennis family; mentor is Jack Chappuies); Jiamin Lyu, 12, (basketball, swimming, U.S. football; Slattman family; Hunter and Gavin); Hongrui Zhang, 12, (clarinet, soccer, running, basketball; Hirzel family; Grant Hirzel); Junbo Zhao, 12, (saxophone, football, basketball; Zatko family; Jacob Zatko); Wentao Yu, 12, (tennis, basketball, volleyball; Frobose family; Logan Frobose); Yiyang Cheng, 13, (soccer, camping, computers; Corns family; Logan Baugher); Haoran Li, 13, (basketball, saxophone, soccer; DeWese family; Colin DeWese); Yue Ni, 12, (basketball, golf, horse riding; Stone family; Tori Martin Crosby); Xinrong Suo, 12, (violin, piano, reading; Bair family; Megan Melcher); and Jingyi Hao, 12, (Chinese Zither, drawing, swimming; Richards family; Catherine Was).

“These kids are so amazing and they are so interested in our school system and our area,” Virag said. “This Chinese middle schoolers are unique to Eastwood — it’s the first time they’ve had middle school students and they are so thrilled about it — both my students and the school’s kids.

“They are beyond excitement,” Virag continued. “Not one of them is having a homesick moment because they are so thrilled to be here and so busy. The host families over at Eastwood took them to the basketball game the night that they got here, and they have just been so busy with them.

“They are from a very small province and they don’t usually let them leave the country, but I do have a group of administrators coming from their school arriving on the 27th and they will be staying at Maumee Bay State Park for a week. I’ll be taking them around and showing them the area so that we can continue this program throughout this northwestern Ohio area in future years.”


Fierce competition
Virag said Rossford Exempted Schools is also participating with Chinese middle school students this year, and Clay and Genoa have in recent years. Eastwood has had Chinese foreign exchange students at the high school, but never the middle school.

Virag said it is not easy for them to be chosen to come to America. She was surprised that not a single Visa was turned down, however.

“The first year we did this, not one of them got turned down, which was amazing because they never get approved 100 percent. These kids, now knowing that this program is in existence, they are really beefing up their English skills because it’s a competition to get to come over here,” Virag said.

“There are 2,000 kids in their school, and only 21 got to come this year, so you can imagine they are taking extra classes in English. First, they have to volunteer to come and then they have to compete, so if there are 100 that sign up, they have to compete with their English to be able to come over.”

Welker, in speaking to one of the Chinese student’s teachers, said he was told that after middle school is completed in China, tests are given and only the top 10 percent of students move on to high school.

“Those students who do not attend our equivalent of high school will receive other kinds of training to become employable in the workforce,” Welker wrote in his weekly community email. “From there, roughly 50 percent will ever get into college. With that comes a great deal of stress. Can you imagine the pressure on kids and parents when life begins to close doors for you at the age of 14? On the flip side, students are very serious, and it shows on their achievement levels.

“It is very easy to become jaded and resistant to the often ham-handed attempts by policymakers to drive up test scores. They see the gaps in the performance of our students internationally, and they are concerned with America’s position in the global marketplace. Not everything that a child learns can be measured on tests, however, you cannot ignore the academic results of students around the world who attend school for more hours and more days than American students. I think we need to find a balance that raises academic goals for our kids while maintaining that creative and independent mind that has made America great. We are competing on a global scale, and for the next couple of weeks, our students will get a look at the competition. We hope it is a great cultural exchange where both sides walk away better for the experience.”

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