(Photo by John Cook) Caro Macomb Elementary School principal Heather LaBerge (middle) with Chinese elementary school teachers Peng Yu Ying (left) and Lyu Chuanjing. The two are in Caro for three weeks, part of the Attitudinal Dynamics International, Inc. program.

Breaking barriers: School district hosts teachers from China

A new phrase has become popular at Caro Macomb Elementary School. 

“Ni hao” means “hello” in Mandarin Chinese. With the arrival of two teachers from China, students are using the phrase to greet the new educators, and each other.

Peng Yu Yeng and Lyu Chaunjing arrived in Caro a couple weeks ago, part of a teacher exchange program. Their three-week stint at Macomb will be over Friday, and they will spend the next three weeks at the Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port School District in Huron County.

“We are learning and growing so much,” said Macomb Principal Heather LaBerge. “We have discovered that we’re more alike than we are different, people are people.”

Peng and Lyu came to Caro as part of an exchange program sponsored by Attitudinal Dynamics International (ADI). They arrived in California earlier this month and at Macomb – the Caro Community Schools District facility housing the district’s kindergarten through second-grade students – on Monday, Jan. 6.

That first day, LaBerge gave them a tour of Macomb and the rest of the school district. They taught the students and staff how to say “hello” in Chinese.

Peng and Lyu are English teachers at the same elementary school in Changchun, in northeast China about 270 miles north of the North Korean border. Peng, who Macomb students address as Miss Louise, teaches third grade and Lyu, addressed Miss Alice by students, teaches second grade in China.

LaBerge said the goal of the program is “an exchange of learning,” with Peng and Lyu sharing what elementary school life is like in China, while observing and learning about the culture of the United States.

The principal at the school that employs Peng (27) and Lyu (25) encouraged them to, as English teachers, go to America to get a firsthand look at the country.

“My major is English, so it’s very practical and I need to see the culture,” Peng said. “Our principal is very open-minded. She thinks every English teacher should go see the outside world and learn real English.”

It’s the first time out of country for both women.

“As an English teacher, we cannot teach our English students without having been to America,” Lyu said. “We have to learn about the country and language by being here. And then we can teach our students about people who regard English as their native language. If we didn’t come here, we can’t say we know about English. We can’t just speak English but not experience the country.”

While in Caro, the teachers are staying with Dustin and Julianna Weidman and family. 

“The beautiful thing about the Weidmans is that Jules has actually taught in China, and they’ve hosted foreign-exchange students,” LaBerge said. “So it was kind of neat that they opened their home.” 

On Jan. 13, and with much of Caro without power due to the previous night’s ice storm, LaBerge took Peng and Lyu on a true-blue American adventure – shopping at the Birch Run Premium Outlets.

Remembering the experience made Peng smile.

“I like the outlets here,” she said. “Heather helped me to get a very, very good discount on two pairs of shoes, an extra 20 percent.”

Lyu, meanwhile, talked about that day’s lunch.

“We eat special burger at Bagger Dave’s (in Birch Run),” Lyu said. “That’s great. We didn’t know about a cheeseburger before and then we can put the mushrooms and other things on them, it was very good.”

Back at Macomb on Jan. 13, the teachers noted the differences between elementary schools in China and the United States.

“The biggest difference may be the quantity of each class,” Lyu said. “We would have 50 students in my class and here there is 15 to 20. So students here can get extra help according to their level. And here we can pay attention to students who need more special help.”

Lyu said that even though classes in China – which has a population of about 1.4 billion compared to the U.S., which contains about 330 million people – have more children, the physical size of classrooms are considerably smaller.

Peng said the smaller U.S. class size allows for more teacher-student interaction. 

“Here, I observe that students have more freedom in the classroom,” Peng said. “They are divided into several groups and they learn according to their levels. The students have different reading materials for different levels of students and we don’t have that. And there are extra helpers here, and we don’t have that in China.”

Peng and Lyu originally were slated to visit an elementary school in Wisconsin, but a cancellation left ADI needing a replacement. The company’s president contacted a Caro Community Schools board member who approached LeBarge about bringing the teachers to Caro.

“We’re actually the first (school district) in Michigan to work with this company,” LaBerge said. “I said ‘Why not? The doors at Macomb are always open.’”

Peng and Lyu’s last day in the school district is Friday. On Monday, they will begin a three-week stint in the Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port School District. After that, they plan on heading to ADI headquarters in Chicago and then to New York City before flying home.

But LaBerge hopes the relationship between the two teachers and Macomb staff will continue beyond their departure. 

“The ultimate goal is to keep in touch after they go back,” LaBerge said. “If they’re doing an American lesson, they could contact us and we could chat online. We don’t want it to end after the three weeks, we want this to continue.”

Meanwhile, LaBerge plans to soak in the experience.

“I knew it was going to be special, but I didn’t know it was going to be this special,” she said. “We feel like family. It’s truly been a pleasure.”

John Schneider is editor of The Advertiser. He can be reached at john@tcadvertiser.com.

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