Seven Chinese elementary and middle school students traveled over 6,000 miles for a two-week STEM immersion program with 61 Norton Elementary School students. The program, most likely the first of its kind in the nation at the elementary school level, began July 16 and ends July 28.
This unique opportunity was the result of a two-year collaboration between Norton Principal Elizabeth Cochrane-Benoit and Guohai “Jack” Tang, the CEO of Chinese high-tech company Keeson Technology Corporation.
“This is hopefully the first of many opportunities to give our students an international experience and recognize the necessity of building relationships as a nation with communities across the globe,” said San Bernardino City Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Dale Marsden, who welcomed exchange students in their native Mandarin. “We live in a global society and we want to develop a global workforce.”
The exchange students, five elementary and two middle school students, are children of Keeson employees who use the same skills in the factory that Norton students are learning in fifth and sixth grades.
“We’re giving students a synopsis of the school year’s curriculum in two weeks,” explained Cochrane-Benoit whose trip to China with her daughter two years ago set this program in motion. “They’re so impressed with all that our Norton students are doing in elementary school.”
Norton teachers and students showcased technology such as computer-aided design and 3D printers to show the exchange students how STEM education and applied learning have transformed education at the downtown San Bernardino school. Students also participated in daily field trips that included a trip to Keeson-owned company Ergomotion in Redlands.
According to Cochrane-Benoit the hope is for Norton Elementary and the school in China to become sister schools in order to establish an ongoing exchange program, paving the way to offer SBCUSD students the opportunity to travel overseas to China in the future.
“We’re teaching the students to use 3D printers and they’re teaching us how to speak Chinese,” sixth-grader Selina Vasquez said. “We’re excited that we might end up going to China as exchange students.”
SBCUSD, Keeson, and the families of the exchange students jointly funded the exchange program.