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"YingHua in Beijing" Summer Program Announcement

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by Liao,Bonnie on 2010-07-04

Dear Parents,

The report on Day 2 was delayed because we had an internet connection problem last night. Finally here it is. Mei Laoshi (Dr. Colette Plum) has written it after we shared our first full-day experience.

Please do let me know should you have any specific questions or concerns.

Happy reading!


June 29, 2010

 Dear Parents,

 Greetings from Beijing! As we write you now your children are all in their Chinese language courses, and we can hear the sweet singing of Chinese songs coming from the A Class (Beginning Mandarin).  But before we tell you more about the details of our first full day, we would like to first express our gratitude to you for sharing your children with us.  We have been so impressed with this year’s group of students.  They are an earnest, sincere, and engaged group and we have been moved and impressed with their commitment to making this a good experience.  Even the teachers, who have worked with the program in previous years, have been commenting on what a special group this is.  We feel very privileged to be entrusted with them at this point in their development and thank you for having had the vision to give them this opportunity this summer.

 Our first full day was indeed a very busy one!  This first update is intentionally very long so that you can have a good sense of the tone and goals that we have set for the program.  We’ve broken it into sections so it is more easily digestible for you.

 Morning Orientation

 We began the day with a rather long orientation, and we were impressed that the students stuck through until the end, knowing they were jet-lagged and still finding their feet.  Bonnie introduced the five key components of the YingHua Program: Leadership, Chinese language, Chinese Culture, Physical Activities, and Fun.   She then led a discussion on the attributes of leadership, encouraging the students to think about ideal leaders and then break this image down into various components that are teachable and learnable. She first asked students: “What is a leader?” and then asked them to name someone they know who is a leader. Some students came up with the names of exceptional historical leaders (such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King).  Others brought up people in their lives they have come to know as good leaders (“my Mom,” “my Dad,” “my uncle”, “Bonnie Laoshi”).  Bonnie then divided the students into groups and encouraged them to think through the attributes that made these people leaders: “What do leaders do?” “What kinds of attributes and characteristics do they possess?”  The list the students generated was impressive and inspiring (some examples included compassion, communication skills, patience, persistence, and good judgment).  We especially appreciated Andrew’s contributions to this discussion and he is already demonstrating developing leadership skills within his group of peers.  Bonnie then challenged the students to see past the glamour of leadership and understand good leaders to be people who have grown and developed over time.  Gandhi proved to be a good example for student reference, as some of the students have recently seen the movie.  Bonnie described how Gandhi gave his first public speech, mumbling into a piece of paper in a soft voice, unable to effectively communicate with his audience.  Bonnie then introduced your children to the IB learners profile for leadership, breaking the mystique of good leadership down into ten attributes that the students may aspire to develop and that we will be supporting the development of throughout our program. 


Colette then led a discussion of the rules and expectations for student behavior as we work to forge a community of learners together.  She began the discussion by posting two words as the foundation for all of our rules: “safety” and “respect.”  She then the divided the students up into their rooming groups and each group come up with what they believed are the three most important rules that would guarantee we all create a safe and respectful environment together.  The students came up with many thoughtful rules such as “respect the property of others,” “never go anywhere alone,” “don’t use illegal substances,” “listen to both your peers and to your elders.”  We discussed each of these rules and then Bonnie and Colette added a few additional rules that had not yet been addressed, but which we feel are essential to health, safety, and respect.  These include adherence to an age-specific curfew and lights-out policy; the prohibition of boys entering girls’ rooms and visa-versa; and a policy that students do not eat junk food (such as sweets, junk snacks, and sugar drinks) while on the program.  Through past experience we’ve found this last policy to be important in maintaining a healthy group of engaged and active learners.  We will be demanding a great deal of your children and we want them to be best prepared, physically, to meet these demands with strong immune systems and alert minds and spirits.  From a Chinese medical perspective, we also understand that limiting junk foods is important to prevent the students from developing an imbalance in their system called “shang huo” which will weaken their immunity.  Please help us in our efforts to keep your children healthy by discouraging grandparents and other visitors from bringing sweets and junk foods as gifts to the students.


Spinning off the earlier discussion of leadership attributes, Colette led a discussion of two attributes in particular: A good leader is reflective; and a good leader is inquisitive.  One key component of our leadership training is to provide students the opportunity for reflection in a supportive collaborative environment.  We circle up together at the end of the day, and after a few guided breathing exercises the students spend ten minutes writing a reflection of their day in their journals and then we spend another twenty minutes sharing these reflections as a group.  In order for reflection to serve as transformative learning, it must move beyond mere description and venting of grievances and on to a deeper understanding of self and experience.  Colette led the students in an exercise of writing for a mere three minutes on what they learned about leadership in our earlier discussion on leadership.  Students then shared what they learned in this brief three minutes of writing and we noted how reflection does not necessarily take a great deal of time (three minutes yielded a lot!), but it does need to be prioritized and one must carry out reflection with interest and engagement.  Colette then had the students write for one minute about what they learned about themselves during our discussion of leadership.  Some interesting things were shared such as “I can’t think under pressure when being timed to write!” and “I get bored sitting and listening for long periods of time!”  We then talked about the importance of reflection for identifying both negative and positive feelings and experiences and using these as opportunities for learning.  Colette shared how she loves hearing her children her own children come to her and say “I’m bored!” Her first response to this is always, “Good!” and her second response to this is always, “What are you going to do about it?” The students offered some powerful insights into what boredom might teach us about ourselves if we reflect on it and pay attention to it (“How do I learn best?” or “Do I want to learn to be more patient?”  They also had some good insights into what boredom or frustration might lead to if we recognize it or address it (such as creative insights and solutions, or the development of new skills).

 Colette also led a discussion on risk-taking as a characteristic of good leadership.  We talked about risk-taking as not doing things that are stupidly dangerous and based on poor judgment (like robbing a bank or playing with fire), but rather, as doing things that we are afraid of and that demand courage from us.  For some of us that might mean singing in public, for others it might mean speaking Chinese.  Colette challenged the students to be risk-takers daily on this program: to do at least one thing every day that they were afraid to do.

 Colette wrapped the orientation up with a discussion of one aspect of Chinese culture that may lead the students to periodically experience either disappointment or frustration and this is the difficult of setting fixed plans that people adhere to with the letter of the law.  Anyone who has lived in China or done business in China knows that if you can’t be flexible with change you will get very frustrated.  Someone may tell you they will have a bus for you by 1:00 and the bus may not arrive until 1:30! We talked about both the positive and negative implications of this uncertainty.  Some students recognized that this might give them the opportunity to renegotiate or bargain for things.  Others recognized that this might make things more fun and more of an adventure if they don’t always know what to expect at any given moment.

 Your children were great partners with one another in thinking through these challenging questions.  You should be very proud of them.

Chinese Language Instruction

 We also launched our Chinese language learning today. We introduced the teachers and the students took a brief written Chinese placement test to assign students to the most appropriate class level.  We recognize we might need to make some adjustments in placements after the first day of teaching (and indeed, after day one we moved two students to a more advanced class and moved two to a more introductory level classes).  After student assignments were announced the student went to their classrooms to for their first class.


 We ate lunch at the hotel restaurant today, family style, at four tables, which included our Chinese teachers.  The food was healthy and delicious! Students ate a selection of dishes balancing vegetables, grains, and protein.  Your children had great appetites and ate well!

 Afternoon Outings

 This afternoon we strived to keep your children active (and awake!) to help them overcome their jet lag.  To this end we boarded a bus for the Ethnic Nationalities Park (Minzu Gongyuan).  The students were asked to bring along their journals and many of them actively took notes on what they were observing.  We were quite touched by their earnest learning.  Our two eight year olds—Victor and Fei Fei— were especially impressive, frequently asking for clarification of facts as they recorded details in their journals.  The students learned that there are 56 official classifications of ethnic groups in China and were introduced to the ways that these ethnicities are represented in present-day China.  We visited 7 different subsections of the park dedicated to different nationalities: Salar, Dai, Miao, Tibetan, Tu, Qiang, Wa.  Many students took our earlier discussion of risk-taking to heart and pushed past their comfort zones to volunteer to try on Dai traditional dress and participate in a water game, drenching each other (in costume) with bowls of water. Students also participated in Dai and Wa dances, and nine year old Rebecca inspired her elders and led the way to group participation in Wa drumming (she was the first to volunteer to stand on a stage and try to drum!).   We spent quite a bit of time at this site and it was nearing closing time, but the Miao performers stayed past hours to demonstrate ladder climb for students that featured skilled climbers ascending a ladder with knife blade steps.  Our visit ended with all of the students dancing in large circle with representatives of five or six different ethnicities.  The students were moved by the symbolism behind different ethnic groups dancing together.

Teahouse and Dinner

The students were tired and a bit parched by the time we exited the theme park after hours.  We then walked to a nearby teahouse where we were given an introduction to Chinese tea.  Everyone sampled Jasmine, Oolong, Pu’er, and Lychee tea and learned about the medicinal functions of tea.  Some students bought tea.  We then proceeded to a special location for dinner: a fancy restaurant open only to members, mostly officials, which we were given access to do to connections of our tour guide.  This provided a good opportunity to introduce students to the importance of guanxi—personal connections—in getting things done in China. The students were especially impressed with the nice restrooms!  As comfortable of a place as this restaurant was, their risk-taking continued into even this culinary world as many students braved to try (and like!) bitter melon.

Evening Reflection

Our bus pulled into “home” at 7:45 and students gathered at 8:00 in a large circle for our structured reflection which included 10 minutes of writing, and 20 minutes of sharing. Much to our amazement, each and every student shared.  Rebecca impressed us again with being the first to volunteer to share and she read beautifully and confidently from her journal.  Many students noted how moved they were that the Miao performers stayed after hours to do their demonstration for us.  Half-way through our sharing, Victor really moved us all with his observation that it was nice putting on those costumes, and it was fun having our water fight, but then he noticed the Dai performers had to wash our clothing afterwards and hang it to dry. What a wonderfully astute and thoughtful observation: that much of our fun and learning is supported by the efforts of people both seen and unseen.

 On that note, thank you all once again for your visible and invisible support of your children’s continued learning and growth.  Again, it is a great privilege for us to be collaborating with you as their teachers. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions, comments or concerns and we will continue to keep you apprised of their efforts and progress.

Sincerely yours,

Colette and Bonnie

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