Friday, December 15, 2017
Education

Chinese middle school students arrive for two months of immersion at Challenger K-8 in Hernando

SPRING HILL — The 54 middle school students peeked nervously out of the tinted glass windows as the white tour bus came to a halt near the front entrance at Challenger K-8 School of Science and Mathematics on Tuesday morning.

They were running late.

Groggy and sleep deprived after nearly a day of travel, layovers and delays, the exchange students from the Beijing New Talent Academy in China hopped off the bus and took their first steps in an unprecedented cultural experiment involving the Hernando County School District.

The students quickly formed four neat lines facing the school, taking in their surroundings and the gray, overcast skies. Many were decked out in colorful hats, backpacks and fanny packs. Some snapped photos with their cellphones. Instructors, both from China and Challenger, swirled around them, unpacking luggage and making introductions.

"Did you guys have a good trip?" asked social studies teacher Chris King, who helped coordinate the exchange.

The students stayed silent, looking on shyly.

He backtracked.

"Who speaks a little English?" he tried.

A few raised their hands.

He asked how many hours the flight was from Beijing to Detroit.

"Thirteen," one girl answered.

"Fifteen," said another.

The exchange is new to Hernando County on several fronts. Never before has the district been involved with an exchange of this size, or at the middle school level or with China.

It has had the school abuzz for days.

"I think talking to students from a different part of the world is fascinating," said 14-year-old Brittany Wey, a Challenger eighth-grader. "I just think that it's cool."

"I just think it's awesome that we can be able to do this," said sixth-grader Max O'Rourke, 12.

Both students are part of the school's ambassador program and have been learning some basic Chinese — "Hello," "My name is ... ," "I speak a little Chinese." For the two months the exchange students are here, it will be the job of the ambassadors to help them adjust and feel comfortable at their new school.

During the time they're at Challenger, the Chinese students will be split up and placed in classrooms throughout the school, participating in classroom instruction and assignments. For five periods, they will be soaking up the English language and American culture. They will spend one period each day with the Chinese instructors from the Beijing New Talent Academy, a K-12 boarding school that was founded in 1995 on the eastern outskirts of the city.

The exchange is being paid for by the Chinese academy. All of the Chinese students will stay with families associated with Challenger or the Hernando school district.

Many of the students are interested in attending a Western university someday.

Challenger students will gain firsthand exposure to students from a culture unlike anything they've seen in Hernando.

Challenger teacher Jason Kean, who also helped coordinate the exchange, said the program will give the American students an "understanding of Chinese culture you can't get in any kind of book or classroom."

He also hopes it will create lifelong friendships among the kids.

Fong Qi'An, who goes by Sherry, sat in the media center at Challenger on Tuesday morning. She was tired, but excited to start her adventure.

"I think American studies are very useful for our life," the 14-year-old said.

Lu Lengrui, 13, sat quietly with a book and confessed that he was a bit nervous, but happy to be in America for the first time.

He said he wants to study English.

Speaking shortly after the students settled into their seats in the media center, Challenger principal Michael Maine, who later plans to visit China, welcomed them to the school. A student stood next to him, translating.

Almost a year in the planning, Maine said everyone was excited about the exchange.

"We want you to feel at home here at our school," he said. "We want for you to feel as though you are part of our family."

Everybody clapped.

Danny Valentine can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1432. On Twitter: @HernandoTimes.

     
Comments
Florida lawmakers want stronger college free speech rules amid First Amendment flareups

Florida lawmakers want stronger college free speech rules amid First Amendment flareups

Rising up in defiance to Richard Spencer, hundreds of University of Florida students sounded off in a deafening chant."Go home, Spencer!" they shouted, as the exasperated white nationalist paced the stage, pleading to be heard.Were the students exerc...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Hernando could be next stop for PACE Center for Girls

Hernando could be next stop for PACE Center for Girls

BROOKSVILLE — The new year could bring about new beginnings for at-risk girls in Hernando County.Pending a vote by the School Board next month, PACE Center for Girls, an alternative education program for middle- and high-school students, could open a...
Published: 12/13/17
Updated: 12/14/17

Pasco school district, employees reach contract agreement

The raises for Pasco County school district employees aren’t as high as anyone would like, but they’re now part of a signed tentative contract deal reached just before 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.If ratified by the staff and the School Board, the agreements ...
Published: 12/13/17
For Bexley students in Land O’Lakes, math skills go airborne

For Bexley students in Land O’Lakes, math skills go airborne

LAND O’LAKES — At Bexley Elementary School in Land O’Lakes, students are throwing paper airplanes — with the help of a high tech computerized launcher. They’re also bowling — with a little aid from computerized drones. And when they get around to it,...
Published: 12/13/17

Proposal to rollback early learning programs could bring Citrus into Pasco-Hernando coalition

Some Florida lawmakers have not hidden their desire to scale back the statewide number of early learning coalitions that oversee child care and preschool programs, including Voluntary Prekindergarten.The state Office of Early Learning has now issued ...
Published: 12/13/17
Brink Foundation, school district create Town ’N Country STEM hub

Brink Foundation, school district create Town ’N Country STEM hub

TAMPA — Elementary school students programmed an electronic mouse to make its way through a maze.Middle school students directed an electronic vehicle to stop on a dime, then use its arms to locate and lift a tiny cube.When the demonstration was done...
Published: 12/12/17
Updated: 12/14/17
Pasco-Hernando State College faculty to consider unionizing

Pasco-Hernando State College faculty to consider unionizing

Caitlin Gille grew up in a union household in Wisconsin, where her mom was a long-time teacher in the small city of Wauwatosa, just west of Milwaukee.She was accustomed to seeing educators advocating for their working conditions and pay, having a sea...
Published: 12/12/17
Updated: 12/13/17
Merriam-Webster’s word of the year for 2017 is ‘Feminism’

Merriam-Webster’s word of the year for 2017 is ‘Feminism’

NEW YORK — This may or may not come as a surprise: Merriam-Webster’s word of the year for 2017 is "feminism." Yes, it’s been a big year or two or 100 for the word. In 2017, lookups for feminism increased 70 percent over 2016 on Mer...
Published: 12/12/17
Book tasting event lets Fox Chapel students indulge their love of reading

Book tasting event lets Fox Chapel students indulge their love of reading

SPRING HILL — As she perused the book, something about Night of the Living Worms piqued sixth-grader Inessia Richardson’s interest. So she decided to take it home from the Fox Chapel Middle School library.The opportunity to look at Night of the Livin...
Published: 12/11/17
Updated: 12/14/17
‘It’s like an insane nightmare’: Parents question private company hired to drive special needs kids to school

‘It’s like an insane nightmare’: Parents question private company hired to drive special needs kids to school

RIVERVIEW — As a foster parent with two sons of her own, Kayla Storey has learned all the tricks to get her kids out of bed and off to school every morning. But this year, Storey says she’s the one waking up every school day with a knot i...
Published: 12/08/17
Updated: 12/11/17