Dear Parents, Students, Colleagues,
Many of you have heard about a long-term link, based on mutual sharing and service, that Keystone has been developing with some schools and organizations in Sishui County, Shandong Province. I have spoken about this and referred to it on a number of occasions. I know of a small number of far-sighted schools in some other places which have similar long-term projects within their own countries with communities that have quite different, and less privileged, life situations. I am delighted that we are doing something similar here. Groups of Keystone teachers and students have visited Sishui County six times already, and a high-level delegation from this part of Shandong has been to Keystone. Our PTA Committee is excited about the project and has been for some time. They will be assisting in helping to move our ambitious program forward.
This all began in 2017 when Keystone established a link with Professor Scott Rozelle, Director of REAP at Stanford University. REAP is Stanford’s Rural Education Action Program, and representatives of REAP have been running projects in some rural areas of China for decades. Many agencies, including of course those of our own Chinese government, have been working hard and successfully over the years to tackle the issue of rural poverty. In an early position paper written for Keystone, Professor Rozelle wrote eloquently of….
problems that can teach young people about aspects of life that they have never known before (and would be unable to learn about in Beijing). Working on solutions can teach students about social entrepreneurship and community service and the power of working in partnerships to solve society’s problems. And, finally, working with farmers and local leaders and children and teachers and doctors and elderly and engineers to define their problems and come up with solutions can give students insights and friendships and partnerships with individuals that live in totally different worlds but that still are aiming for the same goals and have largely the same values.
It is important to note that the concept of mutuality, as expressed in the last sentence above, was built into the project from the beginning. When the delegation from Sishui visited Keystone, referred to in my opening paragraph, we could immediately see how collaboration could work both ways. Such reciprocity is essential, for me and the other planners, in any long-term community service project. It is an integral part of the third of the four big ideas listed in the Keystone Schoolwide Strategic Action Plan, as expressed in the powerful phrase ‘a spirit of empathetic interdependence’:
· Extending community service opportunities widely, on campus, in Beijing, and further afield;
MEETING THE NEED FOR GROWING A SPIRIT OF EMPATHETIC INTERDEPENDENCE
Through REAP, we connected with KERU, an NGO based in Shanghai and started by young Chinese and North American partners who have a direct link with Stanford. KERU stands for Knowledge and Experience for Real Understanding. Working with KERU, we researched a number of rural communities before finding like-minded fellows to work with in Sishui County. We were searching for an area of identified need, with willing partners, and not too close to nor too far from Beijing.
Since identifying the viability of this partnership, we have moved slowly but surely, despite the pandemic, to build a foundation for meaningful further work. Over the past few years, small groups of teachers and students from Keystone have visited there. Our main focus has been the Shengshuiyu Primary School, and one of our Keystone groups stayed in the school itself for some days instead of in the more usual local hotel. We have helped develop a Reading Project, a Keystone/Shengshuiyu School Library, and other teaching programs. This work has been really informative for our students, and mutually beneficial to both groups. Longer term, there will be new projects, linked to conservation and environmental work, farming, caring for the elderly, and others. An unintended but useful outcome of any or all of these is that they can be linked to the CAS and Service as Action requirements for the IBDP and the IBMYP.
As is so often the case, our students are articulate and insightful about the value of this. Here are just three comments from three Keystone students who have visited Sishui County and helped in the Shengshuiyu Primary School:
I am really inspired by Principal Zhao’s determination to push through all those changes in this school for all the children here.
The community is really energetic and enthusiastic, and the time we spend with them is fun. I hope our team can hold the energetic mood throughout these days of research and investigation.
I have observed that the problem that hinders the development of rural education sometimes may not only be the reason of the school, it may also be the responsibility of the family. Because of the reason of lack of money, many parents would go elsewhere to earn a living. Yet this could lead to a lack of monitoring of their own children.
The value of this work and experience, on so many levels, is huge. We hope to continue to deepen and grow this over the years as part of the wider Keystone education that we offer to your children. Professor Rozelle described it in this way in his initial position paper sketching out the project:
Expected Results and Outcomes
We want to give Keystone students
· An experience in and of the “Other China”
· Opportunities for community serviceA
· Outlets for their creative energy and hard work to try to make a difference in the lives of poor rural children and families
· An environment to build relationships with their fellow students and parents and teachers and others outside the classroom.
We want to give Keystone parents:
· An environment in which they can work side by side with their children and their children’s friends and the parents of their children’s friends
· Opportunities to leverage their expertise and contacts and ideas to help design projects and programs.
We want to give teachers and administrators of Keystone:
· An experience in and of the “Other China”
· A platform for promoting an unparalleled education experience for their students.
Next year we will take another big step forward. In the second semester, after the Spring Festival, we plan to take all our Grade 8 students there, in advisory groups two at a time, with their advisors. I’ll write about this exciting possibility next week. The project, however, will be open to all our older students, our teachers, and even our graduates.
With warm regards,
Head of School