In mid-October, Dr. Olaf Jorgenson, the Head of School at Almaden Country Day School, spent a week in Yiwu, China, near Shanghai—but he wasn’t there to take in the local sights. As part of ACDS’s ongoing mission to prepare its students to thrive in an increasingly connected world, Dr. Jorgenson spent the week visiting a number of schools in the area, where he collaborated with instructors, taught a guest lesson (with the help of a translator), and observed a vibrant educational model in action. One of the schools he visited along the way was ACDS’s brand new sister school, Wangdao Middle School, which educates over 1,700 students in seventh, eighth, and ninth grades.
Like most schools in China, Wangdao operates within a strict, government-controlled Confucian model where ranking students, ranking teachers, and encouraging intense competition within the community are non-negotiable aspects of the educational system. This, of course, differs greatly from the middle school instructional program at ACDS, which for decades has centered on cooperative group learning, oral presentations, and project-based learning.
However, over the course of Dr. Jorgenson’s visit, he found far more commonalities than differences between the two schools. Both Wangdao and ACDS seek ways to encourage curiosity, creativity, and teamwork. Wangdao’s principal recognizes these traits as outcomes for ACDS students and strengths of our instructional model. He hopes that our partnership will help his faculty learn more about how we empower students to be creative, collaborative learners.
Both of our schools celebrate the unlimited potential in children, and search for ways to help young people reach beyond their grasp. Both see the importance of STEM in the 21st century economy, and the role science education plays in positioning young people – especially girls – to thrive in high school, college, and beyond. And both want their classrooms to be filled with laughter and joyful learning throughout the year.
In many ways, the goals of the ACDS sister partnership program reflect this understanding—that we are more similar than different. As the world becomes increasingly global and interdependent, sister school programs like ACDS’s help prepare young people to thrive in a community where partnerships, collaboration, empathy, and communication are prerequisites to progress.
“It’s important for children growing up in this area to appreciate that the world is a lot bigger than Almaden,” said Dr. Jorgenson, “Vacations are one thing, but really getting to know a young person living in China is something else entirely. Sister school connections foster a cross-cultural understanding that simply can’t be replicated in any other way. When we build relationships with individual human beings, we often discover that—despite whatever we’ve been taught about a group of people—in reality they’re very similar to us. Suddenly another nation becomes very real and much more than a chapter in a history book.”