St. Clair ShoresJuly 20, 2012
Lake Shore culture camp bridges language gap
By Kristyne E. Demske
C & G Staff Writer
It’s a typical American day camp experience.
There’s getting-to-know-you exercises, time on the playground and field trips to local attractions like the city pool. Then there’s indoor time with gym games and scavenger hunts, and lots of activities designed to facilitate new friendships.
But while on its face it might seem the same as countless other summer programs throughout the area, this one stands apart. That’s because half of the students at this camp — dubbed “Summer Foreign Culture Camp” by Lake Shore Public Schools — aren’t from St. Clair Shores or even Michigan.
They’re from Beijing, China.
Forty students from the primary school at the Beijing Haidian Foreign Language Shi Yan School are in St. Clair Shores for a three-week culture camp at Masonic Heights Elementary with 38 local students. This is the first year Lake Shore has hosted such a camp for Chinese students in fifth- and sixth-grades and American students in fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grades.
Lake Shore already has a partnership with the Haidian school in Beijing for high school students to live at its Taylor International School and Dorm and for a visit from middle school students, but this is the first time it has hosted a visit from elementary-age students. The students spent the first week of the camp in the dorm and planned to live the second two weeks with host families, whose children also attended the camp.
“It’s really fun. It’s just different,” said 11-year-old Erica Colasanti, who will be a sixth-grader at Kennedy Middle School in the fall. “You have to teach them stuff you would do and help them out.”
She said she became interested in hosting an exchange student after another Chinese student visited her school, and she was excited for her new friend, 12-year-old Wei Jianing, who goes by Lindy in the U.S., to come visit.
“She can come to my pageant practice and everything,” said Colasanti, a Little Miss St. Clair Shores contestant. “Let her meet my friends.”
Huang Ruihua, the primary school principal at Haidian, said she hopes the students come to understand each other better.
“The Chinese kids never do some activities,” she said, adding that she hopes the experience will teach them “a lot of things they didn’t know before.”
“This very good to get together and know more about two countries. When they are young, if the school can give more cultural opportunities to get together, that is better.”
Huang said she was surprised how fast the younger students formed friendships.
Donald Kling, assistant superintendent of administrative services and operations for Lake Shore Public Schools, said one of the major goals for the Chinese students is to improve their English.
And the Lake Shore students benefit, as well.
“It helps the elementary kids learn about a different culture and opens their eyes to a global culture,” he said. “Our program has been growing every year. Our students will have an opportunity to go to China in middle school. These kids here today, when they hit high school, they’ll have an opportunity to come here.”
Kling said the host families have been very excited to meet the foreign students. Before coming to St. Clair Shores, the Chinese students spent a week touring Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York City, Niagara Falls and Buffalo, N.Y.
“Their parents think this opportunity is … very good,” said Huang.
All of the students are at the camp at Masonic Heights Elementary School weekdays from 8:30-4:30 until Aug. 3, with field trips sprinkled throughout the weeks. On Aug. 4, the district will host a barbeque for the students and their host families at the Taylor International School and Dorm before the Chinese students go back home.
There are 2,200 students in the Haidian primary school and more than 4,000 in the entire school back in Beijing, which teaches kindergarten through 12th-grade.
Li Huitong, aka Tony, a Beijing 12-year-old, said he’s looking forward to making a friend in his host family.
“America is more beautiful than China, I think,” he said.
“It’s a fun and creative way to spend our summer,” said 11-year-old Alayzia Haney, who will attend Kennedy Middle School in September. She said she’s enjoyed getting to know the Chinese students on the playground.
“It’s pretty cool because we can teach her, and then she can teach us about culture,” Haney added.
Evan Barnett, an 11-year-old who will also be a Kennedy sixth-grader next school year, said the exchange student who is staying with him is very fun to talk with and makes a lot of jokes. He can’t wait to have someone his own age stay at his house.
“It’s just a great experience for everyone,” he said. “This would be something to try because you get to meet new people and have a good time.”
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