By Jonathan Kleppinger
11:36 AM EST, December 12, 2012
A team of three from Jessamine County Schools went overseas in November to take the knowledge of Jessamine Early Learning Village to early childhood education in Hong Kong.
Village principal Kelly Sampson and kindergarten teacher Angela Miller left for the 15-day trip Nov. 2 with Gerald Abner, the district’s assistive-technology coordinator. It was the second trip for the trio; they made a similar journey in 2008 after JELV became a sister school to Anchors Kindergarten and International Nursery.
This year’s trip included mentoring in kindergarten classes at several private schools in Hong Kong, with Jessamine County staff emphasizing the ability to differentiate lessons for individual students. Miller said the schools had much the same feel of American kindergartens.
“They have the same inviting classrooms and their whole place is inviting; they just lack the rigor behind their curriculum; it’s all kind of the same,” Miller said.
The partnership between the schools came from the Village’s designation from the International Alliance for Invitational Education as an “Inviting School” in 2002.
“It’s being very, very purposeful about being inviting — with your people, your places, your policies, your processes and all that,” Miller said. “It’s a pretty intense process to go through, and it requires parent involvement, staff involvement, student involvement. Having taught as many years as I have, it comes natural at the Village. Sitting in on the interview committees, everybody says that we’re a little bit tough, but we look for just the right fit, and that’s down to inviting teachers.”
Each Hong Kong kindergarten classroom had two teachers — one Western teacher and one native teacher — and the students learn Cantonese and English. Miller said the native teachers were reluctant to join in on movement activities the Jessamine team led — until they saw the engagement of the children. One classroom Miller observed had a girl from mainland China who only spoke Mandarin and was in her second day at the school.
“She had that deer-in-the-headlights look at first until she saw the movement and the songs, and she joined right in,” Miller said.
Miller is bilingual and has some trilingual family members. She said the trip made her appreciate even more the importance of teaching multiple languages to students at a young age.
“I see the relevance and the validity behind it,” she said. “I wish we would go back to having our Spanish program, because we had it in kindergarten years ago — because that’s when your brain is developing; that’s when you can latch onto it. If I’m learning two different languages, that’s going to help me with my reading and my writing.”
The most impressive thing Miller saw during the Hong Kong trip was the level of involvement from families and staff. Most Hong Kong kindergartens require eight- or nine-hour work days from teachers and often have field trips on Saturdays. Parents came to workshops the Jessamine team presented, and the school-wide parent events are typically held during the work day.
“The workplace allows parents and family to take time off to be with their children, to show their children that they support their education and their learning process; that was overwhelming to us,” Miller said. “To see these families come from mainland China — I was awestruck, as were Kelly and Gerald. We were like, ‘Wow, they are taking three- or four-hour chunks of their day,’ and then talking to a lot of the parents, they just decided to take the entire day off.”
The team went to one public kindergarten in 2008 but visited all private schools last month. Miller said the level of engagement was just as high in the public school in 2008 as it was in the private schools, though they had seen more children with special needs that may have been unidentified. She said she was pleased to see some of the differentiation suggestions made in 2008 had been implemented and were visible in 2012.
The partnership with Anchors is ongoing — Miller said a team of Hong Kong teachers may come visit JELV next year to collaborate and team-teach, and a vice principal from Hong Kong is already set to come to Nicholasville next December to volunteer her time in the classroom before the entire delegation makes a trip.