One very recent result of Hill’s designation as an official Confucius Classroom was the opportunity for Natasha Woodruff ’11 (pictured on right), a Hill student from Royersford, Pa., to meet First Lady Michelle Obama during an event held on Wednesday, January 19, at Howard University in Washington, D.C. This event was part of Mrs. Obama’s work focusing on educational exchanges between the U.S. and China as part of the “100,000 Strong Initiative” launched in November 2009.The event for Chinese language students at Howard was timed to coincide with the state visit by China’s President Hu Jintao. Natasha was one of 23 students representing 21 schools that have earned the Confucius Classroom status.
“The conference was about foreign studies and traveling abroad; I’m very interested in both topics,” Natasha said. “What surprised me most about the convention was that Mrs. Obama was speaking my exact thoughts: A language is more than just sounds and syllables. Culture is a huge part of every language, and without experiencing the culture a person cannot entirely understand the language. I was inspired to hear that the issue of traveling abroad and its importance as part of one’s complete education has received such government attention, and I was thrilled when Mrs. Obama discussed new scholarships that are being offered for students who want to travel abroad.
“During the summer of 2009, I traveled to China to practice the language and learn more about the country. I learned more than I could have imagined. The culture is so diverse and different from our own that it is impossible to understand without living in there.
“I am hoping to spend a year abroad in China during my college career,” Natasha added.
The Monday, Jan. 31 edition of the Pottstown Mercury featured a comprehensive article, complete with video coverage, regarding Natasha's experiences and The Hill School's selection as a Confucius Classroom. View that article.
The Hill School’s Chinese language program has been named a Confucius Classroom – an honor bestowed by HanBan (an official branch of the People’s Republic of China’s Office of Chinese Language Council International) in collaboration with the Asia Society.
As part of its mission of promoting intellectual exchange between China and other nations and stimulating knowledge and understanding of the Chinese language and culture, prestigious HanBan-designated Confucius Classrooms are selected from public and private elementary, middle, and high schools in the U.S. based upon their “potential to serve as national models of excellence in the field of Chinese language teaching and learning,” according to the Asia Society’s notification correspondence.
Hill’s detailed application was completed by Chinese teacher Hsiao-Ning Tu, one of two Chinese instructors at the 160-year-old private college preparatory boarding school.
As a member of the highly selective 60-member Confucius Classrooms network
, The Hill will receive resources including a generous grant to help fund classroom programs, teacher training and enrichment, and student and faculty travel over the next three years, including “sustainable exchange partnership” initiatives with a still-to-be-determined sister school in China. In turn, Hill will fulfill HanBan-Asia Society responsibilities such as serving as a regional center for professional development and participating in the Asia Society’s conferences and online community.
Over the past few years, both Headmaster David Dougherty and his wife, Kay, and Hill admission department representatives as well as Chinese teacher Chris DeLucia have visited China and Hong Kong to connect with alumni as well as prospective families, and several students have participated in School Year Abroad
programs – but the Confucius Classroom grant and resulting partnerships will expand upon such opportunities. Tu proposes greater use of tools ranging from Facebook to Skype to facilitate “face-to-face” communication between Chinese and Hill students; she notes that “because we are a boarding school, we will not be inconvenienced by the 12-hour time difference” in scheduling real time interactions.
Tu’s Confucius Classroom proposal includes projects such as creating a webcast that shares current events and cultural information, and translation of sections of The Hill’s website into Chinese, which would provide a service for interested non-English reading families in China. Funding also will allow The Hill to create a lecture series and organize Chinese teacher retreats for educators from area schools offering Chinese programs.
“I was very, very happy about The Hill School’s selection for the network,” Tu said. “With Hill’s high quality, diverse student body, renowned classical languages department, and a strong modern languages department, we are in a perfect position to cultivate world-class citizen leaders of tomorrow – resourceful students destined to be multi-lingual and to possess well-rounded, worldly perspectives.”
Hill was far ahead of the curve in terms of teaching Chinese, Tu said, noting that Hill’s Chinese program was established in 1997 and has been at the forefront in utilizing on-line resources
which supplement classroom face-to-face time. Hill also has a Multimedia Language Lab
used as part of its language teaching.
“Hill’s selection by HanBan validated my ideology about teaching Mandarin as a foreign language in the U.S. as well as my pedagogical practices in general,” said Tu, who was born and raised in Taipei, Taiwan. She came to the United States in 1992 as an art history student in the M.A. program at The City College of New York; currently, Tu is enrolled in a dual Ed.D. and M.S.Ed program at the University of Pennsylvania. Tu has lived in Philadelphia since 2002 with her husband, Richard Bonk, a book production manager in the publishing department of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Tu also has a Hill School campus residence – a requirement for her role as a “24-7” boarding school faculty member. She has taught Chinese at The Hill since the fall of 2008.
“The Confucius Classroom selection is not only a tremendous honor, but a great responsibility and mission for me,” Tu emphasized. “I feel motivated to provide even greater quality teaching to Hill students, and to help bring the East and the West together. If funding from HanBan permits next year, I also hope to start an afterschool Mandarin Chinese program for young children of our community, as well as a year-long Tai Chi class as an intramural elective for Hill students. ”