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Cascade Heights thanked for hosting Suzhou kids


by: PHOTO COURTESY: CASCADE HEIGHTS - A group photo of the students/teachers with their Cascade Heights buddy students. Cascade Heights is the only elementary school in the North Clackamas School District that offers Mandarin as a regular subject during school hours, not as an after school program.On Feb. 19, Cascade Heights Public Charter School in Clackamas welcomed 11 students and their teacher from Suzhou, China.

by: PHOTO COURTESY: CASCADE HEIGHTS - Chinese Exchange Teacher, Fei Fei Song, with Yimin Li, and Malia and Meiling Masterson in front of OMSI. At the welcoming ceremony, Cheryl Johnson of 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 Liu of the Portland State University Confucius Institute. The ceremony 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. Kids 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.

Siblings Meiling and Malia Masterson and their guests, the exchange school’s teacher and another student, enjoyed being English-Chinese dictionaries for one another. 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 from home to participate in the exposition. In a letter of appreciation to the school, Hongyu Cai, vice principal of Suzhou Experimental, wrote: “When I spent time with our students, they always told me how excited and happy they were at the school and at their home stays. When I saw our group off at Portland airport, I was moved by the scene. 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 students from Suzhou have visited Cascade Heights, but it was the first time they stayed with host families. It also was the first weeklong exchange. In previous years, exchange participants have stayed at PSU 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 PSU. 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 United States and the People’s Republic of China. It provides support for community outreach and development of nondegree 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 Confucius Classroom designation for Cascade Heights. Liao taught math in her native country for five years before moving to the U.S.

“Chinese students are so amazed at how American students go to school. It is very different than in their home country,” she said.

Liao 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.”

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.”