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Lessons in cultural exchange 26 Chinese pupils visit Lake Shore

Heads turned in Valerie Smith's math class when a child visiting from China stood up at his desk after he was called on to answer a question.

Her Lake Shore Middle School pupils were impressed.

"Can we start doing that?" some of them asked.

That's one of the many cross-cultural exchanges that Lake Shore Central pupils are having with 26 counterparts from a middle school affiliated with Jilin University in Changchun, Jilin Province, China.

Ask both groups what they have learned this week, and in between smiles, the first thing you might hear is how different school is.

In China, pupils sit in the classroom while teachers move from room to room. And children stay in school from 7 a.m. to nearly 7 p.m., then go home to do three to five hours of homework -- without parental assistance.

But after spending a couple of days together, they realize that children are children, whether they're from Angola, N.Y., or Jilin Province, China.

"We think a lot alike and our personalities are the same," said Mackenzie Ciciera, 13, whose family is hosting several visiting students.

"In our school we have too much homework. We have to study all the time," said Lu Shan, 15, echoing a complaint that is also heard from Western teenagers.

"They seem to be more strict at school and we're more relaxed, but eventually we'll have the same education," said Lauren Gotsch, 13.

The 26 Chinese students, their teacher and principal arrived at Lake Shore High School Monday, where they attended a reception and met their host families.

They have spent time at the middle school, high school and Highland Elementary School, and are headed to Lake Shore's varsity football game at West Seneca East tonight. They plan to visit Niagara Falls and the Niagara Power Project Saturday before leaving Buffalo on Sunday. Last week they spent time in several cities, including Washington, D.C.

"Last year we began to talk about globalization in the district," said Lake Shore Superintendent Jeffrey R. Rabey.

The result is the visit, coordinated by Highland Elementary School Principal Dawn F. Mirand and arranged by Shuching Chen, executive director of the Center for Cross-cultural Exchanges in Amherst. It is hoped that Lake Shore students can visit the Chinese school in several years.

The Lake Shore district also entered into an agreement with the Chinese middle school to promote the mutual exchange of systems, curriculum, instructional practices and support services.

"It is our over-arching purpose to develop and educate our children to be able to successfully compete in a global economy," Rabey said.

The Chinese students are enjoying themselves, and their principal is appreciative of the reception they have received.

"I like it very much," said Cui Dinghe, 12, as several of her friends agreed. "The teachers are very kind and friendly."

Principal Cui Zhenji said the children were shy last week, and did not want to talk to Americans. But when they got to Lake Shore, they found common ground and started practicing their English.

"The language has not been a barrier," said Lake Shore Middle School Principal Erich Reidell. "That was my greatest concern: Will we be able to communicate."


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