Mt. Vernon Teachers, Administrators Participate in International Exchange Program in China

Photography Provided

International exchange programs for students are common in this generation. But now a new type of exchange program for teachers and administrators is available and select Mt. Vernon Community School Corporation staff got to experience it.

Seven staff members went to Anshan, China, a city of more than 3.6 million people. Along for the experience were Mt. Vernon High School Principal Greg Roach, Fortville Elementary teacher Kelsey Sager, Interim Co-Superintendent/Director of Elementary Education Heather Noesges, Mt. Vernon High School English teacher Jordan Gerbsch, Mt. Vernon Middle School 7th Grade Social Studies teacher Eric Harnish, Mt. Vernon High School Mandarin Chinese teacher Yi-Fan Lin and McCordsville Elementary teacher Trina Conover.

Last fall, administrators and teachers went to Anshan, and this past summer, Fortville Elementary sent a group of their teachers to Anshan to teach a group of their teachers about the educational practices they use for their elementary school students back home. This time, the opportunity was open to all teachers who wished to apply.

“My coworkers’ stories about the connections they made with teachers in Anshan, China inspired me to apply,” says Kelsey Sager. “I was ecstatic a few weeks later when I received word that I was chosen for the China trip. The experience was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

As different as the two cultures are, the goal of schools is the same in every country — to teach the children.

“We wanted to share our educational processes and ideas with schools in Anshan and learn from the Chinese educators about their educational methods,” says Greg Roach. “We also went to further develop our partnership with the schools in Anshan with the hope of setting up future student and teacher exchanges.”

One of the goals for the exchange program is to expose teachers and students to diversity and different cultures around the world.

“We want to prepare them for life outside of Mt. Vernon,” says Heather Noesges.

Each school year, teachers are challenged with covering required curriculum in a finite number of days, making it difficult to squeeze in lessons about other cultures. But the exchange program provides a new way to integrate those cultural experiences with the existing curriculum, providing a valuable component to the students’ learning.

“Now when I teach my kindergarteners about holidays around the world and the Chinese New Year, I can use my own experience, pictures and souvenirs from the trip to help those lessons come to life,” says Trina Conover.

The teachers and administrators returned from the trip in October eager to share the experiences with colleagues and students alike.

“I teach about the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City and the Tiananmen Square Protests of 1989. After seeing these landmarks in-person, they’re so much more real to me,” says Eric Harnish. “They’re no longer just historic places on the other side of the world. I can give students a detailed description of the steps on the Great Wall, describe what it’s like to barter with souvenir shop owners or explain how two people who don’t share a language can still communicate with one another. Now my students will get a better learning experience through my greater understanding of the Chinese culture. There’s no better way to learn about a new culture than to fully commit and immerse yourself in it.”

The experience was very personal for one teacher.

“As the only Asian born-and-raised teacher at Mt. Vernon High School, I wondered what other teachers would think of me because of my different background,” says Yi-Fan Lin. “But during this trip, it was amazing to see how curious and open-minded our group and the Chinese schools were about everything, We were exposed to so much of the Chinese culture like the students’ lifestyle, teaching methods, using chopsticks, learning some words in Mandarin and reading signs in Chinese characters. I’m proud of the staff at Mt. Vernon who stepped out of their comfort zone and embraced a culture far away and proud that both cultures are so willing to learn from each other. These educators will be a good influence on our students.”

Aside from sharing their exciting experiences, the exchangers noticed some interesting contrasts.

“The first thing I noticed was the class size. I’m used to having around 22 students in a class,” says Kelsey Sager. “In China, some elementary classes had more than 40 students with just one teacher. Their recess is unsupervised, and the hundreds of students play and get along without adult supervision.”

All those involved are excited to see the program growing.

“This program didn’t exist when I attended Mt. Vernon schools,” Harnish says. “I’m excited to see this opportunity open up to more and more of our students and staff as it continues to grow.”

To learn more about international exchange opportunities in the Mt. Vernon Community School Corporation, visit

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