School Officials Meet About Chinese Student Exchange Program

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On Wednesday, area leaders in education and economic development met at Eastern Local Schools to discuss the potential for Chinese high school students to study in local schools in hopes of bringing economic and cultural development to the Pike, Ross, Scioto, and Jackson county area.

School administrators and board of education members as well as representatives of government and economic development met with Frank Feng, of the Weiming Education Group, and Renee Gordon, owner of E Squared, a U.S. company that is working with Weiming.

According to Feng, Weiming is the largest private K-12 education group in China, with nine schools set up, and the number of students will soon be at 40,000 due to growth in the current schools and new schools. At the high school level, Weiming and its CEO and president Lin Hao are looking to set up a program in cooperation with U.S partner schools so that Chinese students can attend one of the Weiming schools in China using an American curriculum and using only the English language during the ninth and tenth grades and then attend school in the United States for eleventh and twelfth grades.

The Weiming group has already placed students in other areas of the United States but is hoping to begin placing students in the Midwest. According to Feng, his group would like to place 2,000 of its students in the United States during the next few years. Weiming is open to placing students in public, private, charter, or religious schools.

According to Neil Leist, Eastern Local Schools superintendent, he met Gordon about a year and a half ago and became friends with her due to their mutual interest in forming partnerships to enhance education. Gordon introduced Leist to Feng several months ago and spoke to him about the possibility of local schools working with the Weiming group.

"I just thought it would be beneficial to both sides," Leist said of the partnership. "From a cultural standpoint, our kids here in southern Ohio getting to participate in education alongside of some Chinese students, and on the flip side of that, the Chinese students would be getting the cultural experience from here in southern Ohio."

Leist explained that in China a person's resume is worth much more if they have a college degree from the United States, but many of the Chinese students falter with English.

"Even though they pass an English exam their senior year, when they are immersed in 100 percent English, they tend to struggle with their English," he said.

The program would allow Chinese students to be immersed in a culture that speaks English during their junior and senior years of high school enabling them to be better prepared if they choose to attend a U.S. college.

The partnership would also provide significant financial benefits to the host schools and host families, with each host school receiving $10,000 per year for each Chinese student who comes to the school and each host family receiving about $500 a month.

"That's an immediate boost to the economy when that kind of money starts coming in," Leist said. "Our goal is in two years to have approximately 200 students in the Ross, Pike, Scioto, and Jackson county schools. That would be a $2 million boost into the general funds of these schools, and it would be another $1 million that would be fed into the economy from where the host families would be picking up about $5,000 a piece."

If area schools host Chinese students, the arrangement would begin with the 2014-2015 school year. According to Leist, when Feng saw the Eastern school building he commented that when Chinese families see a picture of the building, that is where they will want their children to attend school.

Gordon said she has a heart for this area of the country and that the Weiming partnership hopes to bring money, inspiration, and hope to the region.

"What you find is that these Chinese students will teach your kids that we live in the land of opportunity, that we may be down, but we're not out," Gordon said.

Gordon mentioned that every child has a gift and talent and that the Weiming program recognizes that.

"I think one of the beauties of this program is that they will take second- and third-tier students, as they call them in China, with the expectation and the belief and the track record that they can raise them up," she said. "You're not just going to get a group of elitist Chinese kids, but you're going to get Chinese kids in whom people have invested time, money, heart, and soul."

When the number of students in a 50-mile radius reaches at least 500, Weiming plans to build a regional center in the area, which will serve both the Chinese students and the local community. According to Feng, the centers will help the Chinese students by providing dorms and visiting staff who will help the students master their school subjects and the English language, as well as deal with the cultural shift they will experience. Most of the students will live in a combination of dorm housing at the center and with host families, Feng said recently.

The center would benefit the local community by allowing students from the host schools learn the Chinese language and culture. According to Feng, U.S. students may even want to take a year or a semester to study in one of the Weiming schools in China.