BARRINGTON – Three-year Barbara B. Rose Elementary third-grade Chinese Immersion instructor Mary Wei Weerts’ daily lessons took flight this spring break as she traveled back to her childhood home in Beijing, China.
Weerts’ students tracked their teacher’s trip through her online blog as she posted photos and short history bits from the distant land that her students already have learned so much about.
Despite jet-lag from the 13-hour time difference between Beijing and Chicago, Weerts took her own two children sightseeing. Visiting Weerts’ childhood schools, meeting English teachers and exploring ancient temples were just a few highlights of the trip.
Weerts’ family trip coincided with U.S. first lady Michelle Obama’s visit to Beijing on March 20 to March 23. Obama advocated for the power and importance of education for young people across the globe.
In her own travel journal at www.whitehouse.gov, Obama wrote that her goal was to emphasize the importance of students learning from one another globally and to inspire young people to pursue education beyond high school.
Over spring break, Weerts’ students were able to compare their teacher’s trip to the First Lady’s trip by viewing both of the traveler’s online posts.
Chinese Immersion, a district-wide, half-day English and half-day Chinese program, began with kindergarten and first-grade pilot cohorts at Rose school three years ago.
The Chinese Immersion class has since grown to include a highly demanding academic curriculum for Rose students who started the program during their kindergarten year and are now in second and third grades, Principal Scott Carlson said.
Chinese Immersion is available within the Barrington 220 School District at Rose and Countryside elementary schools. A kindergarten class will begin at North Barrington school this fall.
Carlson said in order to keep the students motivated, they must be able to apply their knowledge of Chinese language and culture in an authentic way.
Weerts’ travel blog allowed her students to comment on her posts and become more curious about China.
“Mary is always looking for creative ways to help the kids learn,” Carlson said. “She sets high expectations for herself and builds a personal bridge to her students.”
Weerts made her trip educational for both her students and her own children by first visiting a third-grade classroom at one of her childhood schools.
“It’s amazing to see how third-graders learn around the globe,” Weerts wrote on her blog March 23. “When I was in school, English didn’t start until sixth grade. Now, Chinese kids study English in kindergarten.”
Born and raised in China before moving to the U.S. after college, Weerts wrote that the classrooms that she remembers as being once over-crowded, with 40 or more children per class, are now less full. Weerts attributed this classroom space to China’s one-child-per-family policy mandated in 1979.
In days following, Weerts posted photos and short lessons of her trips to Beijing University, which she noted as the “best language-learning school in China;” the Temple of Heaven, visited by Emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties for annual ceremonies for good harvest; a tea house, a Panda Bear zoo and Forbidden City, an imperial palace which is now a museum. Weerts wrote that she enjoyed the architecture of the palace built in the 1400’s.
Weerts explained the significance of her tea house and zoo visits to her students, as tea is said to have been first discovered in China and Panda Bears are endangered.
Living in an ever-expanding global society, Carlson agreed with First Lady Michelle Obama about the importance of education overseas.
“This sort of trip is special,” Carlson said. “As educators, we always talk about 21st century learning in terms of technology and such. I think learning a second language in depth is the best skill our kids could ever have. I can’t wait to see how they end up using this education as they grow older.”