Steamboat Springs The Lowell Whiteman School director Chris Taylor last month left the Yampa Valley for Beijing with a stack of his business cards printed in Chinese and a desire to bring some of the emerging superpower’s culture — and students — back to his rustic campus just outside of Steamboat Springs.
“I think our students really need to understand and know as much about China as they can,” Taylor said from his office Nov. 16. “We are two major powers. We rely on each other economically, and we need to find ways to cooperate with each other and understand each other.”
On his inaugural 10-day trip to China, Taylor said he walked through suffocating smog in Beijing before he began his tours of urban and rural schools in other provinces. In Shanghai, he saw first-hand what he called the fascinating architecture that is a staple of the country’s continued expansion. In that city, the educator said he was most impressed by the reaction he got from schoolchildren as he described his home in Colorado and of the opportunity the foreign students now have to learn there.
“When I told them about the mountains and the skiing, their eyes lit up like silver dollars,” Taylor said. “The interest among Chinese kids to come to America for their education is astounding. They want an opportunity to take classes they are interested in instead of having a strict curriculum.”
He said bringing those students to Steamboat as soon as next school year will be a mutual benefit for the students in the Yampa Valley and in the world’s most populous country.
New source of enrollment
With enrollment at the private boarding school just north of Strawberry Park continuing to decline, Taylor said China has become a new recruiting destination for the school.
“The world is getting smaller and smaller,” Taylor said. “I think it’s going to be really exciting to have Chinese kids here and for our students around here to learn more about China.”
On Nov. 4, Taylor returned to the Yampa Valley with two applications from students in Shanghai and interviews with those students already have started via Skype.
Taylor said the relationships he developed with educators and students in China during his trip will allow five or six Chinese students to attend classes next year at Lowell Whiteman. And in addition to bringing foreign students to Colorado, he said the school also is working to develop a teacher swap program that will have a Whiteman teacher leading English classes in China and a teacher from that country teaching Mandarin Chinese at Lowell Whiteman.
The need for more students at Whiteman is apparent as the school this year started with an enrollment of 59 students, down from 76 last year and 106 students the year before.
Economic factors have decreased the enrollment of most private schools in the Steamboat area in recent years as parents find it more difficult to pay tuition costs.
The expanded recruiting efforts abroad are an extension of revamped recruiting efforts the school already has put in place to attract students closer to home. Whiteman this year refined its website and brought on a specialist who is starting to work with students with identified learning disabilities. The school last year also hired a new dedicated director of admissions.
Taylor said his trip to China was not meant to only bring Chinese students and culture to the Yampa Valley. Touring schools across the Anhui Province, Taylor also started plotting an upcoming Whiteman trip to the Asian country.
Before students from Shanghai start classes at Whiteman next year, seniors in the school’s Global Immersion Studies program will travel to China in the spring. It is a journey Whiteman students have not made since 2007.
In between classes in Whiteman’s Charlie Williams Lodge on Wednesday, seniors Charlie Lakin and Errik Hill predicted their trip to China will be the most unique travel experience they will be afforded at Whiteman.
“I feel like China is going to be the most different country I will visit,” Lakin said, adding that she was eager to see firsthand a communist political structure. “I don’t really know much about it except that it is such a diverse area and one of the up-and-coming world powers. I’m excited to learn about what’s actually happening in China compared to what we hear on the news.”
Hill, who traveled to Mongolia his freshman year, said he also was looking forward to going behind the media barrier that exists between the U.S. and China.
“You always see and hear about Beijing and Shanghai and Hong Kong, but you don’t really hear about the normal everyday lives of people who live outside of those cities. I’m excited to visit and see what life is like inside the rural villages there,” he said.
Margi Missling-Root, director of experiential learning at Whiteman, said her school’s renewed focus on China is a response to the country’s increased presence in the world.
“China is in the news everywhere, from their history to medicine to human rights to economic development,” she said. “We have a responsibility as educators to prepare our students and increase their awareness of global affairs and relationships.”
Root said because China has opened up more to the West in recent years, Whiteman students can benefit from an increased understanding of the country.
“China is a strong force in the world, and we have to learn more about them and their culture and their education system and help bridge gaps,” she said. “This upcoming trip is an incredible opportunity for our kids.”
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com