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Traveling from China Grove to China Carson High educators part of cultural exchange

By Maggie Blackwell
mblackwell@salisburypost.com
Two local educators are helping to build a bridge, and it’s a long one. It stretches from China Grove all the way to China.
Henry Kluttz, principal of Carson High School, and assistant principal Kelly Withers leave Monday for Jiangsu Qingjiang Upper Middle School in Huai’An, Jiangsu, China.
The trip is part of an effort called the “2009 Chinese Bridge Delegation.” Launched in 2006, this program is designed to enhance the understanding of China; bring China into the classroom via language, culture, and economic effects; and make valuable contacts with international leaders.
“Neither of us has done anything this large before,” Kluttz said. “The travel, the opportunity for cultural exchange is mind-boggling.”
Carson’s participation is also affiliated with the Center for International Understanding, which is part of the University of North Carolina system.
During the trip, Withers will deliver about 150 pen pal letters in which Carson students have introduced themselves. The letters also include their e-mail addresses. When school resumes, the Carson students and students at their Chinese sister school can e-mail one another to deepen their understanding of each other’s culture.
This is not just an e-mail opportunity. Eventually students will meet face-to-face ó via Internet videoconference. Because of the 12-hour time difference, Carson students will arrive at school by 6 a.m. to take part in the videoconferences, and the Chinese students will remain at school until 6 p.m. their time.
During the first year of the program, it is likely that most activities will center on getting to know each other: sharing DVDs, music, fine arts programs and sports interests.
There is talk of students eventually having the chance to travel to meet their new friends.
Withers says students selected to participate will be a diverse group: students who want to be part of a cultural exchange; students willing to participate; students who will maintain the e-mail relationship long term; students with the flexibility to arrive at school by 6 a.m.
“I was surprised at the volume of paper letters,” she said. “I had no idea so many students would want to be a part of this.” Most of the letters have photos on them.
Students may soon be able to take a course in Mandarin Chinese. At this point, Kluttz is unsure if the class will be offered on the Carson campus or via computer through the N.C. Virtual Public School.
He is looking at his teachers to see who might be qualified to teach an East Asian Studies elective class. He says teachers and students alike are enthusiastic about this new opportunity.
Kluttz and Withers attended a two-day seminar earlier in the year to meet representatives from other schools participating in the project. Much of the time was spent on etiquette and protocol, Withers said, such as proper tea service, using chopsticks and forms of address. North Carolina has 26 delegates flying to China next week. They are part of a 400-delegate group selected for the 2009 project.
On next week’s trip, Kluttz and Withers will meet school officials and explore how best to develop the partnership of the schools. They will also sign a Memorandum of Understanding agreeing to work together educationally and collaboratively so students can learn by communicating.
Kluttz will arrive in China with gifts for his hosts. The gifts include a banner with the names of both schools written in both English and Mandarin Chinese; a DVD illustrating activities, news and events, along with pictures of Carson students; and a proclamation from the China Grove mayor and town board members supporting the partnership.
At some point next year, the local educators’ counterparts at Jiangsu Qingjiang will travel to Carson to meet students and further develop the collaboration.
No public school money is being used for participation in the program. School superintendent Dr. Judy Grissom applied for Robertson Foundation funds when she learned of the program last fall, Kluttz said. In fact, when he learned of the dire state of the public schools’ budget, he offered to defer the trip. The foundation, like most foundations, stipulates that money granted must be used for the purpose for which it was requested, so the project will proceed.
“I never dreamed I would travel to China in any capacity, much less in a professional capacity,” Kluttz said. “Thanks to the Robertson Foundation that this is not coming from tax dollars.”
Kluttz believes the exchange will have an added benefit.
“This might be the opportunity to bridge the cultural gap with people of Chinese heritage who will move to the area to work at the N.C. Research Campus,” he said.
Grissom says the program helps meet the school system’s mission, part of which is “to develop globally competitive schools.”
“If we are going to reach this mission, we certainly need to increase our students’ awareness of the world around them,” she said.
When the school system began its 21st Century Classroom program, Grissom said, she sought ways to use the new technology to connect with students abroad and “develop cultural awareness and collaboration.”
She had heard of the Center for International Understanding through her work with the N.C. Public School Forum. She and Dr. Becky Smith visited the center and talked with its staff about how the Rowan-Salisbury School System could become involved.
“We were especially excited to hear about the Chinese partnership,” she said.
Since two Carson teachers are now 21st Century Classroom Model teachers, “we discussed the idea of the partnership with the teacher, and then with Mr. Kluttz. He was very excited about the possibilities and submitted an application,” Grissom said. “We … were thrilled when Carson was selected for the partnership.”
Grissom says she hopes a true partnership will be formed between Carson students and the students in China ó that they will communicate through their e-mails, blogs, iChat and video streaming.
“I am hoping that some of the Chinese students will visit Carson and that some of the students at Carson will be able to go to China,” she said. “I believe the sharing of cultural information will lead to a better understanding of both countries and be important for the stability and future of our country.”
You can check www.salisburypost.com to read updates on the trip as Kluttz sends them from China.

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