Just a few short days after classroom doors were closed for the summer, three India Hook Elementary School educators were back at work.
They werent in Rock Hill. Instead, they were half a world away in China, participating in the first Beijing Elementary Education International Conference.
The Rock Hill team was one of only four American elementary school groups chosen to attend the conference.
India Hook Principal Crystal Guyton learned of their selection in early February, and just a few days later she, fourth-grade teacher Heather Rollings and first-grade teacher Stacy Bunchman were well on their way to planning for the journey.
On June 11, they departed after months of rigorous planning. This wasnt a typical conference.
Rollings and Bunchman didnt just make presentations to conference attendees; they had to replicate their classroom exactly from the desks to the rugs to the classroom materials, including PrometheusSmart Boards and iPads. They then were to teach just like they would in their own classrooms at India Hook Elementary.
It was probably the hardest week we ever worked, Guyton said.
Guyton also presented and provided assistance as Rollings and Bunchman taught classes full of Chinese students. The lessons were recorded from every angle and played back for an auditorium full of education experts, both Chinese and American.
Bunchman and Guyton said the experts asked dozens of questions, such as why certain tools were used or why concepts were presented in a given way. They said the feedback was all positive.
I felt validated, Bunchman said.
Rollings said observation and careful feedback is something a typical American school schedule doesnt allow for. The Rock Hill educators realized the reasons behind the use of particular methods or tools, something that had become second nature at home.
In the classrooms, Bunchman, Guyton and Rollings witnessed the cultural differences between students from China and South Carolina.
Typical classroom behavior in the United States, like raising a hand to ask a question or working in groups, was mostly unfamiliar to the Chinese students. Both Bunchman and Rollings devoted a great deal of their classroom time to teaching concepts of community.
It doesnt matter where you go, were facing the same challenges, Rollings said, something she realized even more when, on the day of her lesson about solar cars and pollution, the front page of the Wall Street Journal happened to feature a picture of Beijing covered in smog.
The trio spent several days in Beijing, Chinas capital city, and then took a high-speed train several hours south to spend time at another school in the city of Hefei. They also spent several days sightseeing. They gushed over the food and the hospitality of the Chinese people.
We were very fortunate at both schools to have the most wonderful teachers and people, Bunchman said.
And all three said they were looking forward to bringing what they learned in China back to Rock Hill.
Bunchman said she hopes to have a modern-day pen pal relationship with a classroom in China, using video chatting over the Internet.
Rollings said she was reminded how much everyone really has in common when it comes to education, no matter the geography.
And while the 10-day trip was exhausting, all agreed the experience and months of preparation were well worth it.
It was a whirlwind, but you get out what you put in, Rollings said.
The conference was the joint effort of several groups, including Beijing Normal University and the Stanford University Learning and Equality Assessment Center. The dean of the School of Education at Winthrop University, Jennie Rakestraw, also attended and was partially responsible for the selection of India Hook.
Rachel Southmayd • 803-329-4072