Friday, January 8, 2016

Reflection #1: Continuing to enrich the EFZ/Peddie bond

This is the first in a series of three reflections written by Jian Wang, one of two faculty members from EFZ who visited Peddie for three weeks in January. The visit was part of the EFZ/Peddie sister school partnership program, which is approaching it's 10 year anniversary. Wang and his colleague Jing Jin met with faculty and department chairs, attended classes, meals and community events, and made comparisons between the ideals and practices of both schools.  

Sitting in a cozy loft of Swetland and taking a retrospective look at our first week with the Gold and Blue, I find Peddie to be a community that embraces diversity yet remains warmly bonded. Despite individual differences of origin and background, Peddie provides each of us a chance to look inside ourselves and find the true character that distinguishes us.

Wang and Jin with Headmaster Quinn and faculty
members Caglieris, Clements and Gao
While mandatory credits in various fields might appear to be no different from what we have from any traditional eastern system of education at a first glimpse, a closer look reveals some interesting and key features that distinguishes Peddie's system. In each department, students are exposed to an ample amount of resources that enable them to fully develop their own interests. With the requirement of minimum credits to be acquired in each of the fields, any individual can discover a hidden interest. A sports-minded lad could become an unexpected talent in singing, while a girl keen on literature might find her unrevealed instinct for engineering.

This observation helped me to understand the mysterious experience I once had while teaching Calculus in college. Back then most of the students sitting in my class simply attended as a requirement of their major, with only one exception. There was a young man studying film at the university who attended my class and, with great enthusiasm, tackled whatever tough and tricky math problems popped up. Though probably totally “useless” to his future career, he never complained about the challenges faced during the semester he spent with me. Now I can somewhat see the reason: a wide scope of interest developed in his earlier stages of learning could have led to his everlasting interest in mathematics, even if he was already dedicated to another unrelated field.

The EFZ teachers met with Tim Corica to discuss
teaching methods, curriculum and placement in
the math department
While showing full respect for differences, Peddie does its best to keep the entire community together and teaches them to care about each other.

In the same way we introduce our guests to EFZ at the magnificent flag raising program with 1,200 kids lining up on the playground, our first formal introduction to Peddie took place in the traditional Chapel meeting. Unlike the class meeting at EFZ, which gathers a total of about 400 students from the same grade, the Chapel, despite the similarity in terms of population, gave us a very different feeling. Neither routine, nor purely ritual, it turns out to be a session that passes on the positive energy in various forms: lively vocal music that brings harmony, a wise reading that helps to find our inner peace and moving talks that cause us to reflect on our own lives. The Chapel is more than a formal tradition. Its inspiring content contributes to the mental maturity imperceptibly. Experience with the Chapel helps to clarify my understanding the term "maturity" which I often encounter when writing references for my students for their applications to academic programs. Evaluating students' maturity means more than evaluating their communication and interpersonal skills. The genuine feeling of caring about others and the ability to build on personal experience are more important factors in terms of maturity. These are the qualities that could be enhanced through the Chapel program and will probably remain quite valuable lifelong traits for any individual.

Though probably matched up by chance in the very beginning, experience from the past week convinced me that Peddie and EFZ are a perfect match as sister schools. As opposed to the stereotypes of old schools in China and most eastern Asian educational systems, EFZ is also highly concerned about the development of our students in multiscale. Unlike the prototype of specialized schools in the old days, students at EFZ are not restricted to their own fields. Kids from the science-directed sections also compete in running the student committee, while students who specialize in literature might show up in advanced science/engineering classes to get prepared for their inter-field studies. Like Peddie, students at EFZ are not only recognized for their academic achievements, but also the highlights of their performances in sports, arts, virtue and various other aspects. It turns out to be our common mission at Peddie and EFZ that we value the growing of students as human beings to be the priority. This similar pedagogical ideal shared by our schools has proven to be the strong bond that links us despite other gaps due to the differences in culture.

As the sistership between Peddie and EFZ approaches its 10-year-anniversary, I am looking forward to further chapters in the coming weeks so that we can tell the story not only from the book cover, but also the content.

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