A delegation of Chinese school officials visited Yosemite High School last week to explore a possible school sister partnership -- a new opportunity available through YHS where foreign students receive a school-issued visa and pay tuition to attend the high school.
This is different from existing foreign exchange programs, coordinated by organizations.
Yosemite awarded its first school-issued visa this school year to 16-year-old Nuoya "Catty" Chen of Baoding, China -- near Beijing -- who is attending YHS this year as a sophomore.
Last week's delegation -- a principal, vice principal and English teacher of a private boarding school in China -- spent Dec. 2 to Dec. 4 in the Mountain Area, lodging at the Pines Resort in Bass Lake, visiting Yosemite National Park and touring the YHS classrooms and campus.
"I couldn't have been more pleased with how the visit went," said Stephanie Samuels, Yosemite High's International Program coordinator, school counselor and International Baccalaureate (IB) coordinator. "They really loved Yosemite High School, especially the staff and the students."
Yosemite High sees their outreach with schools in China as the first step of a budding international student program, which won't cost tax payers money and will bring new sources of revenue into the district through tuition.
"I think Yosemite High School students will benefit from this relationship because it will broaden their world view and cultural perspectives," Samuels said. "In my perfect world, the international program would have students from 30 or 40 different countries -- kids from all over the world -- but this is just the first step to find a sister school and establish something, and then reach out from there and find other countries."
Samuels visited five schools in China over 10 days this April -- along with meeting with an education consultant in Shanghai and a school administrator representing seven high schools in Beijing -- in an effort to make school partnerships.
Samuels wrote to about 15 schools in China that have IB and Advanced Placement (AP) classes about developing a school partnership, and plans to write to another dozen schools in South Korea soon.
"They are very interested in having their students get accepted to American colleges, and at this point, they are still exploring what it would be like for their students to spend a year at Yosemite High School," said Yosemite Superintendent Jim Sargent of the outcome of the Chinese delegation's visit. "We are trying to create a program that would give foreign students a chance to experience American education and give our students an opportunity to learn alongside students with different backgrounds and perspectives. Our well-established and rigorous IB program is a very important bridge between our school and other IB schools outside the U.S.
"We felt very good about the visit and the discussions about working to create a partnership. We know it will be a long process but are excited to have been able to show what we have to offer."
Samuels said the delegation was very impressed by the way students are being taught at YHS.
"They were very interested in our vocational, technical programs because they don't have anything like that in China," she said. "I think perhaps it's novel to them that there's such hands-on type of learning here. Their educational system is much more traditional lecture/book oriented ...
"Even though they are an IB school, they have more of a traditional way of delivery ... they saw our students very engaged and active in their IB curriculum and they were very impressed by that and they want our teachers to go and train their teachers."
One of Yosemite's teachers, Rusty Oetinger, is already teaching at their school (along with his wife Cecelia, a Wasuma Elementary School teacher) on a year-long teacher exchange program. The school -- Country Garden School -- is a private boarding IB/AP K-12 between Guangzhou and Hong Kong with an enrollment of 4,200 students. Oetinger has been writing about his experience at rustyoety.blogspot.com.
Srini Vasan, Yosemite's recently retired assistant superintendent/chief business officer, helped spearhead the district's international student program and guided the Chinese delegation throughout their three-day visit.
"Overall, our curriculum, our IB and AP offerings, and the facilities we have -- all of those things impressed them," Vasan. "They were also spellbound by the beauty of Yosemite."
Samuels said the Chinese officials also commented that, as they walked around campus, YHS teachers and staff seemed to know and greet all the students by name.
"What I value most about going to school at YHS is that everyone is willing to help me anytime -- they accept me and are my friends, both the teachers and the students," said Chen, attending YHS this year through the school's first school-issued visa. "I will definitely recommend YHS to my friends and relatives in China. When the Chinese high school officials came to visit our school, I told them how much I love this school. I'll never forget the experience I've had here, and I am sure the friends I've made here will be life-long friends."