NAUGATUCK — Christian Zahornasky, an 8-year-old second-grader, has grown to like China after learning about the country for months at Salem Elementary School.
“I like how they celebrate New Year’s, which is different from America’s New Year’s,” Christian said. “They give children money in red envelopes.”
Since Superintendent of Schools John Tindall-Gibson visited China last November, the school has forged a partnership with a “sister school” in the northeastern city of Harbin.
As China’s economy grows, learning of its languages and cultures has become more important in the United States, Tindall-Gibson said. High schools are beginning to offer Advanced Placement courses in Mandarin, which Tindall-Gibson said could come to Naugatuck High School.
“China right now is something that a lot of people are interested in because it’s such an emerging global power,” Tindall-Gibson said.
Tindall-Gibson said he paid $900 of his own money to go on the weeklong “Chinese Bridge” trip last year, hosted by The College Board and Hanban, a division of China’s Ministry of Education.
Tindall-Gibson was in a group of 400 educators that visited Beijing and Harbin. While in Harbin, he met with students and staff at Harbin Ouzhouxinchengjingwei Primary School and set up the sister school program.
The school was built in September 2010, and its name means “Europe New City.” A leaflet from the Chinese Bridge program describes it as a school that combines traditional etiquette, home economics, reading and table tennis classes with a more Western curriculum. It enrolls first- through sixth-graders who all study English every day.
Tindall-Gibson said the global mandate drew him to the school.
“It was a really sharp school,” Tindall-Gibson said. “It seemed like they were doing some really progressive things. I thought it would be a good match for the students of Naugatuck.”
When she heard Tindall-Gibson was looking for a borough elementary school to partner with the Chinese school, Kruge jumped at the chance.
“Our goal is for them to learn another culture,” Kruge said.
The school’s intern from the University of Bridgeport, 24-year-old Rui Du, came from China two years ago to study education. She translated so Kruge and the school board could converse in January with the Chinese school via Skype.
Since the partnership with the Chinese school began, Rui has taught some Mandarin words to kindergartners and second-graders. The kindergartners at Salem and first-graders at the sister school have learned the same traditional Chinese poem in Mandarin and English.
Students of all grades are taking lessons in Chinese culture, Kruge said. Rui is now working to translate letters from fourth-graders at the Chinese school, so next year’s third-graders can write back in a pen pal program.
The students might need to communicate with Chinese people one day for travel or business purposes, Rui said.
“They want to go to China when they grow up,” she said.
To further the partnership and possibly recreate it in other borough schools, the Board of Education agreed last week to apply for a similar trip for Salem Principal Jennifer Kruge and Assistant Superintendent Brigitte Crispino. If Kruge and Crispino are accepted into the delegation this fall, the school board will pay more than $1,800 for their trip.
There is enough money for it in the professional development budget, Business Manager Wayne McAllister said.
If Crispino goes, she will try to seek out a sister high school, Tindall-Gibson said. The initiative does not end there.
“Hopefully, we will develop relationships with other countries,” Tindall-Gibson said.