Get a group of American fifth-graders videoconferencing with students at a “sister school” in China and this is the conversation that transpires.
What kinds of food do you like to eat? How do you get to school, and what subjects do you learn? Do you have a favorite hobby or sport?
These questions and more topped the foreign affairs agenda Thursday evening at the Utah Capitol as a group of Mandarin learners in Draper Elementary’s dual language immersion program virtually sealed a “sister schools” agreement with the Shenyang Wanghulu Primary School of China. The digital cultural exchange was facilitated by Legislative leaders following a trade mission to Liaoning Province, a region of China with 10-year-long ties to Utah.
Chinese government officials, District and Legislative leaders, including Superintendent Jim Briscoe, House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, and Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, were on hand to mark the ocassion with gifts and dinner in the Rotunda. It was the second time Draper students have teleconferenced with their Shenyang Wanghulu peers, and an educational tool that Legislative leaders hope to use with other Utah schools.
The digital diplomacy sessions give young learners a chance to hone their language skills and observe and learn differences in social norms and cultural beliefs. Senate President Niederhauser hopes the new friendships “will last a lifetime, and bear results for generations.”
Said Marianne Barrowes, a Draper Elementary parent with two children in Chinese language immersion, “It’s so valuable for these children to meet kids in another country and to actually talk to them. When we were little, we had pen pals; this is a whole new level.”
Utah’s Dual Language Immersion Program was created by lawmakers in cooperation with former Gov. Jon Huntsman who is fluent in Mandarin and also served as U.S. Ambassador to China. CSD’s first immersion classes opened in 2009, the same year that the District was founded. The District is now home to eight elementary immersion programs, eight middle school programs, and by 2016-17, will have world language programs in all five of its high schools.
A vocal supporter of the program, House Speaker Hughes believes it will give Utah children the skills they need to thrive in a 21st Century, global economy.