The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

February 5, 2013

Milton schools connect with students 11,000 miles away

By Ashley Wislock
The Daily Item

— MILTON — Beginning Feb. 15, Milton High School students may notice some new faces and in their classes.

Ten students from Heibei Middle School — which encompasses students in 10th through 12th grade — from Zhengding, China, about 160 miles south of Beijing, will spend five days at Milton High School then spend some time exploring the surrounding area, said Principal Bryan Noaker.

The students’ visit is the latest in the cultural and educational exchange program between the schools, located more than 11,000 miles apart.

The exchanges started in November 2011 when the principal of Heibei Middle School, Zhou Qing, visited Milton, staying with Noaker at his house and learning about the American educational system.

It was quite a difference, Noaker said.

“(Heibei Middle School) has about 6,000 students,” he said. “He was surprised at the size of the schools around here.”

In April 2012, Noaker visited Zhengding, learning about the way students at the residential campus spend their days, Noaker said.

“The biggest difference was the length of the days,” Noaker said.

At Heibei Middle School, students begin their day at 5:40, with breakfast and morning exercises, before classes begin at 7 a.m. Then, students take a two-hour break from noon to 2 p.m., another for dinner at 5:30, and classes and activities last until 10 p.m. Parents of the students at the school mostly commute into the city from the countryside for work, so the residential school provides a lot of convenience, Noaker said.

Another major difference is the competitive nature of the school, Noaker said. In China, education is not guaranteed and students must make several important decisions about education by the time they reach high school age, he said.

“We visited a vocational school for teachers, elementary school teachers,” he said. “They were resigned to the fact that they were going to be elementary school teachers by the time they were 16.”

In order to participate for the Milton trip, students had to apply for the 10 spots, Noaker said.

“They received more than 200 applications,” he said.

The Chinese students will shadow Milton High School students and sit in on classes, which should spark some discussion of the educational systems, Noaker said.

“I want to have some of that dialogue going on,” he said.

Noaker is hoping the exchange program will continue with Milton students having the opportunity to visit China.

“We want it to be a reciprocal relationship too,” he said. “There have been students asking.”

Milton also has sponsored trips and programs in Cambodia, lead by history teacher Mike Conn, Noaker said. Such educational and cultural exchanges are important because they allow students to see the world outside of their immediate communities, he said.

Noaker remembers how much students were impacted by a 2008 trip to Cambodia, he said.

“Some of the students on that trip, I think their lives were changed forever,” he said. “It was like nothing they’ve ever seen.”