In July, the City of Manassas Neighborhood Services Division hosted more than 100 international students from the Shenzhen Foreign Languages School (SFLS) in China at Osbourn High School (OHS).
The day-long project partnered SFLS students with OHS students. Supervisors for the program included Mike Dufrene, Freshman Academy Administrator for OHS, Project Infusion Executive Director Tina Murray, City of Manassas senior planner Morgan Brim and Neighborhood Services Manager Kisha Wilson-Sogunro.
Located in the Guangdong Province of China, SFLS is a K-12 school system renowned for its language studies (English, Japanese, French, German, Spanish and Russian), and for the high percentage (99 percent in 2011) of students admitted to universities in China and abroad.
Wilson-Sogunro, an alumna of Leadership Prince William in 2013, developed the partnership between City of Manassas, Manassas City Public Schools, the Astar Education Institute of Washington, D.C. and the Shenzhen Foreign Language School.
“We wanted to give students the opportunity to create a global neighborhood while learning what civic engagement is and why it is important to be involved in your community,” said Wilson-Sogunro. “The challenges we face in Manassas – housing, safety and better quality of life for all citizens – are universal challenges. Our student visitors live in China’s most populated province, a population of 80 million people. These pressing issues surpass local, national and international barriers.”
Tina Murray noted that as she observed the Osbourn and Chinese students working together, it was clear that a bond was being formed on common ground issues, regardless of their differences. “The activities helped bring together what has been broken or separated and tore down our very own walls,” she said.
The students completed three activities. The first was an exercise with senior planner Morgan Brim. The students worked together to redevelop a section of the City on graph paper. They analyzed the need for green space, access to food, walkability and transportation, and added a mix of commercial and residential development. As a wrap-up, each group presented their vision to their peers.
“My neighborhood in China is very different as we have tall apartment buildings everywhere,” shared international student Zhang Zixu. “But as my group completed our neighborhood project, we shared the same concerns about transportation – how do we get around?”
In the second activity, students prepared back-to-school care packages for children in Moore, Oklahoma, who were affected by the EF5 tornado that struck May 20, 2013. They tucked notes of encouragement in with classroom supplies.
In the third activity, Mike Dufrene and OHS students led the international students on a tour of their campus, comparing notes on a typical school day.
“Both groups compared notes on what their typical school day is like,” said Dufrene, who stepped down as OHS boys’ basketball coach in 2012 to assume the greater responsibilities as the school’s freshman academy administrator. The academy targets improvement in OHS graduation rates by working one-on-one with rising freshmen in the City’s only public high school. “They were surprised at their different preferences for sports,” he added. “The Chinese students enjoy badminton and table tennis when they’re not studying, while OHS students favor activities like lacrosse and basketball.”
Jean Chang, owner of Astar Education Institute, stated, “This has been a great experience for our teachers and students as they are fascinated about the ideas of the American students. It’s important for our students to learn that while studying is their priority, it’s also critical that they learn how to be compassionate for others and to contribute to the community by serving.”
When American students performed a hip-hop dance for the assembly, a Chinese student spontaneously performed a traditional fan dance that involved telling a story with hand movements.
Lorin Anthony Peters II, a senior at Osbourn High School, shared that “their visit made me feel in touch with the world. I was able to get a better understanding of how they do things in their country and their views on education. Learning about our differences made me appreciate all the options that I have at my school.”
The international visit is just one of the many initiatives currently taking place at Osborn High School, from Summer School and SOL Boot Camp to Summer AP Prep Camp, under the direction of new OHS principal, Cathy F. Benner.
Benner says she believes a powerful, rigorous, and relevant high school education are the keys in helping young people become viable, competitive, and credible adults in their own right. “I am very excited about working with the Osbourn community," she said. "I believe some really wonderful things will happen in the coming year.”