On February 19, 2013 Cascade Heights Public Charter School in Clackamas Oregon welcomed eleven students and their teacher from Portland’s sister city, Suzhou, China. At the Welcoming Ceremony, Ms. Cheryl Johnson, from the Portland-Suzhou Sister City Association, presented the visitors from Suzhou Experimental Elementary School to Cascade Heights students, school board members and local dignitaries, as well as Meiru Lui of the Portland State Confucius Institute. The Ceremony commenced at 9:00 a.m. and began a week of activities for the traveling students and their host families.
The Chinese students attended day classes and stayed with their American peers from Cascade Heights for a full English language immersion experience. Children at Cascade Heights who study Chinese also benefited from the cultural exchange and an opportunity to converse with native language speakers. “It was a wonderful opportunity to host a student from China in our home. Global experiences like this will always enrich everyone’s lives”, said Maria Brinker, a host mother whose daughter, Helena, was a buddy to one of the students. Meiling and Malia Masterson and their guests, the exchange school’s teacher and another student, enjoyed being English-Chinese dictionaries for each other. As a bonus, the visit coincided with the school’s science fair – the Sally Ride Science and Engineering Exposition. The Chinese students were excited to bring scientific works all the way from home to participate in the Exposition. In a letter of appreciation to the school, Hongyu Cai, the vice principal of Suzhou Experimental Elementary School said “When I spent time with our students, they always told me how excited and happy they had at the school and at their home stays. When I saw our group off at Portland airport, I was moved by the scene that all the students and parents were reluctant to leave each other. They've regarded our students as part of family.”
This is not the first time school children from Suzhou have visited Cascade Heights but this was the first time they stayed with host families. It was also the first week-long exchange. In previous years, exchange participants have stayed at Portland State University and have enjoyed only one day with local students.
A portion of the Chinese language program at Cascade Heights is funded through the Confucius Institute at Portland State University. Jointly established in 2007 by the China National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language (HanBan) and PSU’s Office of International Affairs, the Institute promotes educational exchange and cooperation between the U.S. and the People’s Republic of China. They provide support for community outreach and development of non-degree programs related to China and Chinese language studies as well as many other opportunities for learning. Wenny Liao, the school’s Mandarin teacher, works closely with the program directors and has earned the designation of a Confucius Classroom for Cascade Heights. Liao taught Math in her native country for five years prior to moving to the U.S. and comments, “Chinese students are so amazed at how American students go to school. It is very different than in their home country”. She translates from a Suzhou student’s thank you letter, “We will remember today, this most memorable day. We won’t forget the time we spent here”. Hongyu Cai of the Suzhou Municipal Education Bureau for International Cooperation and Exchange echoes the sentiment, “It was an amazing and unforgettable school day for our kids”.
Debra Dietch, Communications Administrator
Cascade Heights Public Charter School
15301 SE 92nd Avenue,
Clackamas, Oregon 97015