Dracut School Committee member Bonnie Elie with Chinese students at an elementary school in Harbin, China, after the students had performed an opera for their American visitors. Courtesy photo
PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:

DRACUT — Superintendent of Schools Stacy Scott returned from Beijing this week with a plan to introduce Chinese language and culture studies into the Dracut school system.

“They put some very exciting options on the table,” Scott said. “They talked about times when our students could access their teachers online. They could do brief lessons online in Mandarin.”

The Chinese government-sponsored trip had been mired in controversy last month after several Dracut School Committee members blocked Scott’s move to raise corporate funding to pay for his trip before approving the move at the last minute.

School Committee Chairwoman Bonnie Elie, Dracut Chief Academic Officer Sonia Diaz and the head of the district’s language department, Christine Lord, traveled to China with Scott. The trip did not use any funding from the district’s budget.

“We made a lot of great contacts,” Elie said. “They really want to have some sort of a program with us, and I would love to have some of our students be able to go over there and our teachers go there just for the exposure.”

Elie said Dracut’s delegation also met other U.S. educators who had already established programs and asked them for tips.

After an orientation in Beijing with 400 other American educators, Scott said he and other Dracut school officials toured schools in Harbin and Beijing, meeting with local teachers and school leaders who he hopes will be instrumental in his plans to create language and cultural exchanges.

Over the past several years, the district has had to make cuts to the language programs at the junior high and high school, according to Scott.

“Building a language program is a given and, obviously, we will do so as money becomes available,” Scott said.

The deadline has already passed for the district to apply to host guest teachers from China for the next school year, but Scott plans to apply for the benefit the following year. The Chinese government subsidizes part of the guest-teacher program, and Scott hopes to find corporate sponsorships to cover the remaining costs.

Scott said he also met teachers who offered to teach Dracut classes online for free.

“We plan to do more online learning anyway,” he said. “That’s just a natural next step in the district. I want to make it an across-the-curriculum program where work we do on technology and math is integrated into the program. Maybe from sharing from one country to another, I think we could find ways to learn from each other.”