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Red-letter day for new sister schools

Madam Wong Dong Yang, Principal of Northeast Yucai’s International School in Shenyang, China, shakes hands with Oxford Superintendent Dr. William Skilling. Photo by Andrew Moser. (click for larger version)
October 13, 2010 - Oxford Community Schools (OCS) took a big step forward in its global education effort when they signed a sister school agreement with Northeast Yucai School of Shenyang, China on Wednesday, Oct. 6.

The agreement will lead to future student and teacher exchanges between the districts, business internships and language camps.

More than 700 students, faculty and community members were present to witness the signing that Dr. Geo Chen, the Deputy Superintendent of Shenyang, China and Principal of Northeast Yucai School called "a historic event."

Chen said in a video message from China that "At this historic moment, let us witness the beginning of an in depth and comprehensive cooperation between the two sides. We need to cooperate not only for educational exchange and different forms of activities, but also spiritual and cultural understanding and development."

Northeast Yucai School was founded in 1949 and currently has eight campuses and 14 sections that range from pre-kindergarten to high school.

Daniel Axford Elementary students Abbey Allion, Sophia Shampine and Landon Jenson recite a Chinese greeting. Photo by Andrew Moser. (click for larger version)
The school has approximately 15,000 students and 1,000 teachers.

Oxford Community Schools Superintendent Dr. William Skilling was "very excited" about becoming their sister school.

"Our sister school partnership will help transform our schools into global learning communities," Skilling said. "We are both working towards becoming International Baccalaureate World accredited schools. As a result, our students will be better prepared to live, work and serve in a global world that will only become more globalized over time."

Chen added that "today's event will mark our agreement's new journey towards a successful and fruitful cooperation. I hope that we can learn from each other with the spirit of mutual respect in pursuing common development."

Dr. Yong Zhao, a Distinguished Professor for the College of Education at Michigan State and the Executive Director of the Confucius Institute said that the signing is going to put Oxford "on the global map."

"I congratulate you for doing this and thank Dr. Skilling for doing this. He is a true visionary," Zhao said.

"I think this sister relationship not only brings opportunities to speak another language, but more importantly it provides opportunities to interact with students from other countries as a way to develop your cultural intelligence," Zhao added.

Skilling signed the same agreement when he traveled to China in June 2010

Initial conversation about a sister school evolved after Skilling went to China in June 2009 to explore educational opportunities, according to Assistant Superintendent James Schwarz.

It was during that trip that Skilling visited Northeast Yucai.

Skilling said he was impressed by their high academic standards and "excellence I saw everywhere on their campus." He added that it felt like an honor to have their name associated with OCS and that OCS now had a responsibility to honor that name by always striving for excellence in whatever the district does.

"They are bestowing one of the most precious and sacred gifts they can give because with a name comes a person's reputation and an organization's reputation that they have so carefully built over the years," Skilling said.

"We must honor our sister school's name by how we conduct ourselves, striving always for excellence and being an educational leader in our own life as well," he added.

Both Skilling and Chen noted that OCS and Northeast Yucai have the same vision and ideologies for their district.

Both schools have a strong emphasis on math, science, engineering, English and Mandarin Chinese and want their students to become independent thinkers and learners.

"After Dr. Skilling's visit last June, we were genuinely amazed by the similarities between us in the educational ideology and virtue," said Madam Wong Dong Yang, Principal at Northeast Yucai's International School in Shenyang.

Yang also believes the two districts could explore further opportunities for collaboration beyond student and teacher exchange.

Schwarz indicated there is currently one student from Oxford, a senior, who is studying at Northeast Yucai.

Next school year the district is looking to have at least 20 students from their sister school partake in classes at Oxford.

According to Skilling, this signing would not have been possible if it wasn't for the vision of Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson laid out in his state of the county address in 2007.

In 2007, after returning from an overseas business trip to China, he met with all 28 superintendents and challenged them to begin incorporating Chinese language in their curriculum.

He based his challenge on the experiences that he had while in China.

"They (China) understand that today's globe is a very small space and we are going to be bumping into each other from an economic point of view and educational point of view...the Chinese authorities, teachers and leaders are getting their school children ready to compete in the world economy," he said.

Currently, 27 of the 28 schools districts in Oakland County offer some form of Chinese language instruction.

Patterson praised the district for their implementation of the Chinese language starting in kindergarten. "Nobody has made the commitment that the Oxford school system has. You obviously are leaders in that regard; congratulations on accepting the challenge and do well," he said.

Andrew Moser is a staff writer for the Oxford Leader.
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