Supervisor of the Janesville International Education Program
The Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations took place this week and in honor of this holiday, our local schools celebrated the culture with parades and other activities. One particular event that the School District of Janesville (SDJ) sponsored to help commemorate this holiday is “Operation Holiday Cards,” a collaborative effort between some SDJ Elementary Schools and their Sister Schools in China.
To provide some background, over three years ago the SDJ embarked on a quest to enhance international education program by recruiting F-1 tuition paying students. Teachers and administrators from the SDJ were invited to participate in educational conferences and sister school relationships with elementary, middle and high schools began to develop. Initially, SDJ offered Summer Institutes in order to invite partners to Janesville to visit our schools and has since generated greater interest to create stronger collaborative relationships by implementing school year activities or communication exchanges.
This year, I have visited with the Zhangjiagang and Nanjing Departments of Education to discover how best to strengthen the ties between the sister schools and from those conversations “Operation Holiday Cards” developed. Prior to the winter break SDJ sister schools prepared cards representing our winter holidays, and once other schools and teachers learned of the project, they wanted to participate as well. In the end, Chinese language departments, full elementary classes, art departments, and ELL students created beautiful holiday cards that were mailed to our partner sister schools in China.
In early January, we began receiving emails and WECHATs (the preferred mode of communication in China) showing us the effect that the cards had on the students in China. For the Chinese language students in SDJ and the English language students in China it was “authentic learning.” For all other students it was a chance to see each other’s art and culture. For the ELL students it was a way to connect to students from across the globe with a common thread of English as a second language. This project became newsworthy in Zhangjiagang, China. They published the art of the Janesville students and showed pictures of the students with their art from both schools.
The goal was American/Chinese educational cooperation and cultural awareness learning about important holidays. One of the schools that went to the next level was Wanhong Elementary School in Zhangjiagang. They sent a large package of art, cards and scrolls with email addresses, WECHAT addresses and questions.
On Tuesday, February 9th, the Harrison Elementary 5th grade students opened up the package sent to them containing oil paintings, watercolor paintings, a large scroll for the school, as well as various types of creative art using Styrofoam, glue, and paint. There were also large posters to collaborate on centered around protecting our planet through global cooperation.
This type of activity solidifies the relationship between schools. The Chinese sister schools involved in this project have been invited to attend an English Language Summer Institute held in Janesville this summer that will involve Chinese, Korean, and Mexican students. High School students will also be invited to participate in the F-1 tuition paying student program the SDJ offers.
The project has been inspiring and heartwarming as the collaboration on both sides helped to bring the opportunity for authentic language proficiency, cultural awareness and collaboration, and ultimately lasting friendships with students across the globe.