SYRACUSE – Two school leaders from Jiefang Road Primary School, an elementary school of 5,000 students in Changchun, China, visited Syracuse Elementary School Monday to learn more about how U.S. schools are run.

“Students here and teachers here, we can change each other,” said Xiaojei Gao, the school’s principal, through the interpretation of Ynigyan Han, the school’s director. “We can get more ideas about learning and teaching because ... in different countries, they have different ideas about learning.”

Syracuse Elementary School is a Chinese immersion school in Davis School District.

“This morning we had a good experience,” Xiaojei continued. “Syracuse school is a great school. (Principal) Marilyn (Merkley) pays attention to teachers and students and cares about every student.”

Xiaojei and Ynigyan began their visit with a slew of student performances by almost every grade of Chinese immersion students at Syracuse. The performances ranged from first graders reciting famous Chinese children’s poems while practicing kung fu to sixth graders hopping in and out poles on the ground as other students tapped the poles to the beat of Queen’s “We Will Rock You.”

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Principal of Jiefang Road Primary School in China Xiaojei Gao, left, and Director Ynigyan Han watch students perform a Chinese dance on Monday, May 6, 2019 at Syracuse Elementary. Xiaojei and Ynigyan are visiting from the Chinese sister school as part of an immersion program.

Then the school leaders visited Chinese immersion classrooms for every grade level.

They were particularly interested in the use of interactive group work — at one point getting on the floor with a group of students learning how to count money — which is different from China’s emphasis on lecturing.

After conversing with a group of first graders in Chinese, Ynigyan said “they speak Chinese very well.”

While the group observed a Chinese immersion kindergarten classroom, kindergartners hopped up and down from a large floor mat, where they were all sitting, to answer questions in Chinese.

“Isn’t it amazing how much they know in kindergarten?” Syracuse Principal Marilyn Merkley said.

Xiaojei and Ynigyan were returning a visit from Merkley, who traveled to their school in June.

These school leaders are visiting each other because their two schools are “sister schools.”

Merkley connected with Jiefang Road Primary School through a Chinese teacher at Muir Elementary who had taught at Jiefang Road Primary School. This teacher suggested to Merkley that the two schools should connect.

Every Chinese immersion school in Utah does not have a sister school — and Syracuse Elementary has two. Syracuse’s other sister school is in Beijing.

Syracuse connected with the school in Beijing through Hanban, a public institution in China that is connected to the Chinese Ministry of Education. According to Hanban’s website, the institution’s purpose is to provide Chinese language resources worldwide.

Xiaojei and Ynigyan are in Utah for 10 days, visiting several immersion schools in Davis district as well as attractions around Utah.

Their plans include visiting Antelope Island, Park City, The Lion House and Red Butte Gardens.

Though school leaders from different countries can learn a lot from each other, Xiaojei says there are more similarities than differences between the sister schools.

“For kids, the schools in the U.S. and the schools in China are mostly the same,” she said. “We all care about the kids, but maybe we use different methods — different ways to teach them.”

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