Every time Anne Lewis takes a sip of Jasmine tea, she will be reminded of the students and teachers she met in China.
"They were all so welcoming," she said.
While going through souvenirs and trinkets from her recent trip to Beijing, China, Lewis talked to her travel partner and co-worker Suzette Wyhs about the differences between Beijing and Loudoun County schools.
"The classes were very regimented," Wyhs said. "Little room for creativity."
"The class sizes were huge, but there were no discipline problems," Lewis added.
The Loudoun County Public School employees went on a cultural exchange program, made up of 400 educators from across the United States, to China sponsored by the College Board, a nonprofit membership organization that provides educators with opportunities like exchange programs to benefit their schools.
"Loudoun is very active with College Board programs," Lewis said. "They see us as an up-and-coming school system."
After a 14-hour plane ride from Beijing to the United States Sunday, the Loudoun County Public Schools employees were back to work at the Administration Building in Ashburn Monday.
"We’re a little jet lagged," Lewis said.
FOR ONE WEEK, Lewis and Wyhs toured Beijing and several surrounding villages’ elementary and secondary schools. Chinese administrators, teachers and students welcomed U.S. principals, program directors and teachers by clapping and taking pictures, Lewis said.
As part of the cultural exchange, Lewis and Wyhs toured schools, sat in on classrooms and met with government officials, to discuss China’s educational goals and what works in the United States.
One morning, Lewis participated in a physical-education exercise.
"The whole school was out there," she said. "Three thousand students in a courtyard at once, lined up like soldiers."
Wyhs was struck by the class sizes.
"It’s common for 60 to 70 students in a class," she said. "Some primary schools are made up of 3,000 students."
Teachers stand in front of large auditoriums and deliver information over a microphone.
While many of the Chinese school practices were different from Loudoun County Public Schools norms, she was able to take away a few ideas to apply to the 2006-2007 school year.
As the guidance director, Lewis said she was glad she experienced the Chinese culture.
"Now, I know how to deal with some of our similarities and differences," she said.
AS THE FOREIGN language director, Wyhs took many things away with her as well.
In September, three Loudoun County public high schools will offer Mandarin, the official Chinese language, to students thanks to the efforts of School Board member Bob Ohneiser (Broad Run). Former Loudoun Valley High School special-education teacher and native speaker Tom Wang will teach the beginner’s class Broad Run, Harmony and Loudoun Valley high schools. In total, 75 students will take Mandarin next year.
In preparation for the new class, Wyhs made sure to purchase zodiac calendars, calligraphy sets and typical Chinese games to bring back for students to experience.
"Kids love that stuff," Wyhs said.
PUBLIC SCHOOLS spokesperson Wayde Byard said the school system encourages exchange programs for teachers and students.
"People think school employees take the summer off," he said. "Really, they take advantage of educational programs like this one."
Byard said high schools encourage students to participate in cultural exchange programs as well. For example, Park View High School offers a German exchange program. Byard recalled Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick taking students to France when he was a principal at Loudoun County High School.
Loudoun County Public Schools is active with the Visiting International Faculty program, which brings teachers from all over the world to the United States. Last year, the school system welcomed 72 teachers from countries like Argentina, Australia, Costa Rica, Denmark, Japan, South Africa, Spain and Zambia to classrooms across the county.
"Exchange programs are strongly encouraged," Byard said.